Records of airline pilots’ training and any legal violations will be kept in a national database with the creation of a new tracking system born from the last major aviation disaster in the U.S. more than 10 years ago.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has been criticized repeatedly for failing to finalize the congressionally mandated database, announced Wednesday it has completed the troubled program and airlines must begin checking the records of new hires within six months.
“It has been a long journey for the families of Colgan Flight 3407, but their tireless advocacy and continued engagement with the FAA has made this database a reality,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “With it, employers will be able to quickly and thoroughly make informed hiring decisions to keep our skies safe.”
Congress required the Pilot Records Database one year after a Colgan Air commuter plane crashed near Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 12, 2009, killing all 49 people on the plane and one on the ground. It was the last passenger airline accident with mass casualties on a U.S.-registered carrier.
The crash was caused by the pilots’ confused reaction to a cockpit warning, but among the issues uncovered in the probe was that the captain had a record of failing training exercises and tests that were never shared with the airline, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded.
The issue has continued to be a problem, the NTSB said last year in another accident investigation. The pilot of a cargo jet carrying Amazon packages who became disoriented and crashed near Houston on Feb. 23, 2019, had a history of panicking during training exercises, but had hidden that from his employer, Atlas Air, the NTSB said.
The FAA’s pilot database will include records of any previous failures to obtain certificates, as well as information on accidents, incidents, enforcement actions, drug and alcohol tests, disciplinary actions and firings.
Under the current system, airlines must request pilot records from the FAA, but the data is incomplete. Once the new database takes effect, it will allow airlines and other commercial operators to report and review the records directly.
The FAA’s final rule governing the database takes effect within two months. Six months after that, airlines must review the FAA records on pilots.
Carriers must begin reporting records on pilot discipline and test results within a year from it becoming law, and they have up to three years and 90 days to fully comply with the rule, the FAA said in the news release.