Segment 1 Of 2 Next Hearing Segment(2)
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Page 1 TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 AVIATION SAFETY: SHOULD AIRLINES BE REQUIRED TO SHARE PILOT PERFORMANCE RECORDS?
PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1995
House of Representatives,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John J. Duncan, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. DUNCAN. We're going to go ahead and start the hearing so that Senator McCain can testify and get on his way, because I know he is an extremely busy man.
I first want to say good morning to everyone and welcome you to the first of two hearings regarding the issue of the sharing of pilot performance records.
Let me first thank all of our distinguished witnesses for being here today. We are fortunate to have the top leaders in the aviation community before us this morning, people who devote their lives to helping make our Nation's aviation system the very best in the entire world.
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From a personal standpoint, as I complete my first year as chairman of this subcommittee, I can say that I have been and continue to be very impressed by the enormous commitment from so many people who help make air travel in this Nation efficient, practical, and, most importantly of all, as safe as possible for all of us.
By the end of this year, there will have been well over 500 million passengers boarding planes all across this country. Experts predict that this number will increase to more than 800 million in just 10 years time.
Everyone on this subcommittee wants to do all we can to help ensure that our air traffic control system can meet the aviation needs of tomorrow, and that we leave no stone unturned to help our already safe system become even safer.
The sharing of pilot performance records has been discussed for some time now; however, the three-part series on pilot error which appeared in ''USA Today'' this past September helped bring attention and really focused on this issue.
I believe that, from several conversations and discussions, there is general consensus that this should be done. I think the question is how we can accomplish this in a way that will help protect the traveling public but, at the same time, will also protect the privacy rights of pilots.
We will hear today from several witnesses who have different approaches and opinions on how to best address this matter. I do know, though, that everyone wants to get bad pilots out of the air, and I think this is especially true of the overwhelming majority of good pilots that we have in this country. I believe we're talking about an extremely small minority of pilots who have records or things in their past that should prohibit them from flying, and particularly from being allowed to fly others.
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Over the last 7 years, as a result of airplane accidents involving fatalities, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration on at least three different occasions that pilot performance records should be shared. Moreover, Members of Congress have introduced legislation to require that these records be shared. Again, I think there is support to do this.
The subcommittee is aware of those in the industry concerned about civil litigation matters and privacy issues. We will certainly look at these concerns, but I think that our overriding goal is to ensure that only the best and the brightest pilots remain in the system.
I think that the majority of airlines do a very good job in weeding out poor pilots; however, what we need to do is make sure that these pilots are kept out of the system.
With that, I will turn to my very fine distinguished ranking member, Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I want to welcome everyone here this morning to this very important hearing we're going to have, and also the one tomorrow. I hope most of you who are here today will also attend the hearing tomorrow.
Mr. Chairman, I request unanimous consent that my statement be included in the record, and I would like to yield at this time to the ranking member of the full committee and the former ranking member of this subcommittee and the former chairman of this subcommittee, my very good friend, Mr. Oberstar.
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[The prepared statement of Mr. Lipinski follows:]
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Lipinski. And, Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing. I appreciate the work that both of you have put into this subject matter.
This is a very important safety issue, and another in the long tradition of this subcommittee of maintaining its focus on safety.
Today the focus is on pilot safety, pilot performance, and that makes it a very complex subject because we will have to look into performance of the cockpit crew: how they work together, how they are balanced in the cockpit, the levels of experience, the ability to function as a team in the cockpit when there is trouble.
This subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, in which Mr. Clinger and I labored together, focused on a number of incidents in the past where we found and the NTSB found and the FAA found that crews were not properly paired, matched, and that an accident occurred because too many were troubleshooting and no one was flying the aircraft.
Today's hearing focuses on another aspect of that issue, and that is access to a pilot's background. Several years ago, when I crafted the national driver register, I was very insistent that the FAA have access to a pilot's driver records in addition to all of the pilot's aviation record, to have a complete picture of the person who is going to be the dominant person in the cockpit and the flight deck responsible for the safety of all the passengers and of the crew.
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That is now available. The national driver register does respond to inquiries from the FAA. An airline also can request that information from the FAA, and an airline should have all relevant background information on a potential pilot employee. It should include earlier training and testing.
But some airlines, because of the fear of litigation, actually approach this on a minimal basis. They take the name, rank, and serial number when they're looking for information on a prospective pilot employee.
But, litigation or no, an airline has a moral obligation to inform another airline, another potential employer of current or past pilot employee, that that person was released for safety reasons. When they are asked, they should provide a complete profile.
Now, at the same time, the Air Line Pilots Association makes a valid point that, irrespective of background, current testing and training of a pilot should tell an airline that it may have a person flying who should not be. In short, they are arguing for more rigorous training and testing standards.
If the company's training and proficiency program does not detect a bad actor, then something is wrong with that airline's program.
But, whatever the solution to this rather complex thicket into which we are venturing, the FAA should remain the central clearinghouse for all pilot records. It is one of theI should say that the FAA should be the central clearinghouse is one of the approaches.
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It, too, has problems, and I raise this on the background of establishing the national driver register. It took years to get the national driver register computerized, millions of dollars to establish the program, a great deal of training and integration with States.
It would be an enormous cost burden on FAA, and if we, in a time of budget constraints, are not prepared to invest the millions of dollars in FAA that it would take to establish such a program, then creating one by legislative design would be an unfunded mandate which the FAA would likely not be able to carry out.
I look forward to the views to be set forth in today's hearing. I have an open mind on just how this matter should be resolved, but there can be no question about providing information on pilots' past performance from one airline to another, from one employer to another so that an airline has a complete picture of the person it's about to hire.
Second, we ought to take a close look at airline training, testing, and performance programs.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
We're very fortunate to have on this subcommittee and here today the outstanding chairman of the full Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, and for many years the ranking republican on this subcommittee, Mr. Clinger.
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Mr. CLINGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to congratulate you, as well, on convening these hearings. Obviously, the issue of sharing pilot performance records among carriers is extremely timely, and I really do hope that this committee will be able to produce legislation in relatively short order to address what is becoming an increasingly serious dilemma.
As has already been indicated, the issue is pretty obvious: pitting an individual's right of privacy against the larger common good. In this instance, it is my view that the public safety takes precedence in that dynamic.
I really cannot think of an analogous class of employees who, in the course of their day-to-day jobs, just doing what they do every day, that has such a direct and profound influence on the safety of such a large group of individuals.
Obviously, flying a commercial aircraft is not simply a matter of doing the job by the numbers. It's a task that heavily relies on the pilot's ability to see and avoid, to plan ahead, to react immediately to unforeseen events in a manner that allows for few errors in judgmentin fact, practically no errors in judgment.
Flying demands that a pilot be able to innately calculate drift, wind speed, to compensate for cross winds, or to safely maneuver their aircraft while totally dependent upon instruments in lieu of relying on the basic human urge to look out the window.
Flying is also a highly developed skill that not all humans are as well equipped to perform, though many try. Military flight training programs regularly wash out high percentages of very willing, eager, and dedicated candidates who desire to fly and are eager to fly, but who simply do not have the requisite proficiency to do that very complex and very skill-requiring job.
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Many individuals earn a pilot's license without becoming a good pilot, at least not good enough to fly commercially. And, while some successfully enter the industry, they may and have been eventually dismissed because they were unable to meet a higher standard which is demanded of a professional pilot whose passengers are put in their care.
We have a very litigious society, and in such a society it is understandable that companies who hire pilots may not be willing to jeopardize a dismissed employee's chances of being employed by another carrier, but it has, frankly, tragically been proven several times in this past decade that lives have been lost because of errors committed by individuals dismissed from a carrier who had clearly proved that they were not up to that task.
So it is my belief that the air carrier industry really needs a carefully targeted exemption, and I agree that I'm notI'm open-minded on how we craft that, but that we need a carefully targeted exemption from liability so that pilot records can be freely shared and we remove another risk that doesn't need to be there. Otherwise, it is my view that an incalculable loss of lives will continue simply because of a company's fear of being dragged into court in, as I said, this litigious society.
So I again commend you on holding these hearings, Mr. Chairman. I welcome our witnesses, our colleague, Mr. Heineman, and our former colleague, Senator McCain, and look forward to their testimony.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Chairman Clinger.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Another very active and dedicated member of our subcommittee, Ms. Danner of Missouri, I know has great interest in this because her husband is a retired TWA pilot. Ms. Danner, do you have a statement at this time?
Ms. DANNER. Mr. Chairman, I don't, but we do thank you for that commercial. We urge you all to fly TWA whenever possible.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
We're very fortunate to have today as our first two witnesses two of our colleagues. We have a man who I think is one of the finest Members of the other body, Senator McCain, who serves with great distinction as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee in the Senate and who has been a leader on this particular issue and has legislation regarding it.
We're also fortunate to have my good friend, Congressman Heineman, here, who had such a fine career in law enforcement before coming to the Congress following this last election.
Gentleman, we're very pleased to have both of you here. Senator McCain, we'll let you begin and give your testimony first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. JOHN MCCAIN, A U.S. SENATOR FROM ARIZONA, AND CHAIRMAN, SENATE AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE; HON. FRED HEINEMAN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NORTH CAROLINA
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Senator MCCAIN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure for me to be back before the committee, and I appreciate the excellent working relationship that I have with you and the other members of the committee, and I look forward to working with you as soon as possible on the issue of reorganization of the FAA. I think it's an issue that we need to address as quickly as possible, and I hope that we canI know we have different bills, but I'm convinced that we can sit down and work out whatever differences that exist, and I think it's a compelling argument.
I'll be very brief, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you again for your leadership on this issue.
I think it's appropriate that this hearing is being held exactly 1 year to the day after the tragic crash of American Eagle Flight 3379 at Raleigh-Durham. I know that Congressman Heineman is as aware of the graphic and tragic dimensions of that crash as anyone is, and I am told that some members of the families are here in the audience today. Of course, they have our sympathy and our appreciation for their willingness to be here.
Mr. Chairman, I think it's very clear that this issue should have been resolved some time ago.
On November 9, 1995, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that pilot record sharing would prevent ''bad pilots from jumping from job to job,'' and the NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, who's with us today, stated, ''Somebody has got to take a step forward to do what's in the public interest on this issue. Lives will be saved.'' I can't say it any better than he did, and I want to repeat again, lives will be saved.
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As you know, Mr. Chairman, in the lastsince 1987, 111 people have died in crashes caused by pilots with recorded history of bad judgment, poor performance, or reckless behavior, and it's clear that not enough information about pilot performance is being exchanged between past and prospective employers.
By the way, Mr. Chairman, witnesses or others will say that the rate of accidents of commuter aircraft has gone down. I'm pleased to note that, but they are still with us, as Congressman Heineman can well testify.
I don't think it is a very complex issue. I think the legislation is very clear. And I would just point out two additional points.
One of them is that, due to the draw-down in the military, we are getting fewer and fewer pilots from the military who are commercial aviators. The military is, I think, in the view of most experts, the best training ground for pilots. As we reduce the size of the military, there will be fewer and fewer of those, and therefore we will be getting pilots who come from a broad variety of backgrounds, which I think increases the absolute necessity on the knowledge of what the background training is.
Second of all, I think, Mr. Chairman, that the issue of immunity must be addressed here. Without absolute immunity, we cannot achieve our key objectives of making it a common practice of employers to research the experience of pilots and to learn critical information that could affect air carrier hiring decisions and ultimately passenger safety.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 I don't see how, without this immunity, we could prevent lawsuit after lawsuit being lodged. I understand that that's a controversial issue, but someone would have to explain to me how this would work without the granting of that immunity.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank your other witnesses who are here today: Mr. Hall, Mr. Hinson, the director of the FAA, who have asserted themselves on this issue which, in the view of some, should have been achieved some years ago. But the fact is: they are here and we are here, and I would look forward to the opportunity of passing legislation that we can agree on and get it passed as quickly as possible to provide the kind of assurance to the millions of passengers who fly on commercial that the strongest measures have been taken to ensure their safety.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to be with you this morning.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Senator McCain, for that very fine testimony.
Mr. HEINEMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am delighted to be here today with my colleague, Senator John McCain, to testify about pilot safety records.
Last Friday, Senator McCain introduced legislation, and today I'm introducing my own bill to make critical pilot safety records available to airlines when pilots apply for a job.
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What prompted me to act was the crash of an American Eagle commuter plane 1 year ago today in my own District. Today, December 13, 1995, marks the 1-year anniversary of that tragic crash of American Eagle flight 3379 that happened just a few miles short of the runway at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
On that sad day, 15 of 20 passengers were lost, including the pilot and co-pilot. What should have been a routine commuter flight between Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, turned to tragedy as pilot Michael Hillis attempted to bring his Jetstream Super 3201 in for a landing amidst the rain and fog.
The National Transportation Safety Board, in a report issued last November, concluded that this crash was the result of pilot error. The quote from that report: ''Based on the evidence uncovered in this accident, the Safety Board believes that the captain failed to follow established procedures for engine failure identification, single engine approach, single-engine go-around, and stall recovery.''
The NTSB concluded that pilot Michael Hillis misinterpreted a signal light as indicating that one of his engines had failed. He tried to compensate, and in so doing caused his twin-engine plane to spin out of control, killing himself, co-pilot Matthew Sailor, and 13 of 18 passengers.
What makes this crash all the more tragic is that pilot Michael Hillis had a long history of such flying errors. Pilot Hillis was hired by American Eagle after being recommended for dismissal by another airline, COMAIR, the commuter airline of Delta Airlines. Perhaps most important, American Eagle was not aware of Hillis' training problems because they did not have his training records.
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According to a recent three-part series on pilot error in ''USA Today,'' airlines currently do not check the prior training records from other airlines of pilots applying for a job. The kinds of records that reveal how pilots make decisions, handle stress, and work with others are the very records that airlines need to have for their pilot applicants, and in the case of Michael Hillis, such records might have alerted American Eagle to Mr. Hillis' lack of skill and saved the lives of 15 people.
On three prior occasions the NTSB made recommendations to the FAA that airlines conduct substantive background checks on pilot applicants. These recommendations were made on November 3, 1988, on November 21, 1990, and again on February 19, 1993. On each of those occasions, the FAA failed to act.
While the FAA has failed to act, ''USA Today'' reports that there have been 111 deaths since November 1987 resulting from crashes that were caused by pilots with documented histories of bad judgment, reckless behavior, or poor performance, and all but one crash on small airlines.
Responding to the American Eagle crash 1 year ago today, the NTSB, on November 15 of this year, again made recommendations on pilot records to the FAA. The NTSB recommended that airlines be required to maintain standardized records on the quality of pilot performance in activities that assess the skills, abilities, and judgments of pilots during training and flight checks.
The NTSB further recommended that the FAA develop a storage and retrieval system for these records.
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Today I'm introducing the Airline Pilot Safety Act of 1995 to make sure that this critical problem no longer goes neglected. My bill follows the NTSB recommendations and directs the FAA to develop a system for maintaining pilot training and performance records to be shared with airlines when a pilot applies for a job.
My bill does not dictate how to set up this system, but rather lets the experts decide how to develop the system. The FAA will be directed to develop a system for maintaining pilot records, consulting with airlines, pilots, and other interested parties.
Within 120 days, the FAA will be required to report back to Congress with a proposed system, and this system will take effect upon Congressional approval of these recommendations. My bill will require that appropriate safeguards be established to protect pilot privacy and give pilots adequate opportunity to ensure that their records are accurate.
The FAA will have the authority to contract out with private companies in developing this system. On the difficult issue of legal liability for those companies that provide records for this new system, it is important to remember that the threat of frivolous lawsuits currently prevent many records from being distributed between airlines. This is plain wrong.
Pilots should be entitled to accurate records, but airlines should not, by threat of costly litigation, be dissuaded from preparing and maintaining detailed safety records on pilots.
My bill directs the FAA to produce recommendations for the Congress on measures to limit the liability of air carriers who will provide these vital records. This is a complex issue, but one that must be addressed to ensure that fair and complete records are maintained on all pilots.
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I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues, Senator McCain, Chairman Duncan, and the other members of this subcommittee to help ensure that our airlines are the safest they can possibly be.
I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senator McCain, for your leadership in this issue, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify before the subcommittee.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Fred.
I know that both of you need to get to other meetings, and because we do have a chance to discuss these matters with you privately, and also to get to other witnesses more quickly, I generally request that we refrain from asking questions of Members, or at least limit those questions, so I'm going to save my questions for the later witnesses and turn at this time to Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I have no questions at this time of the witnesses, but I yield my time to Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski.
Senator, I appreciate your long involvement with aviation. We have collaborated many times in the past 10 years or 12 years or so on legislation.
Senator MCCAIN. Time flies when you're having fun.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes. And so the fact that you've introduced a bill is, I think, very significant. It sets a marker out there.
Your legislation deals only with airline-to-airline sharing of information; is that correct?
Senator MCCAIN. That is correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And you would immunize the receiving airlineyou would immunize the transmitting airline against lawsuits for whatever cause by pilot. What would you think about having the FAA perform a function similar to the national driver register in which the FAA would receive information, serve as a clearinghouse, not compiling the records, itself, but leave those records where they are, but serve as a pointer system and receive only information where a pilot has been dismissed because of poor performance, failing to meet standards and other factors that can be spelled out in the bill clearly so that private pilot privacy is protected, but nonetheless FAA serves that function and would be the buffer between carriers?
Senator MCCAIN. Thank you, Congressman Oberstar. I would be very interested in Mr. Hinson's view of that proposal, and, if they were amenable and think that they could do the job, then I certainly would want to give that serious consideration.
I just wonder if we might be just setting up another bureaucracy, though. You mentioned how long it took to set up the national drivers license registry. It seems to me that perhapsand, again, the following witnesses I think could elaborate on this, but it seems to me that just sharing the information between the airlines would be an effective way. But I certainly am not wedded to this proposal. Clearly, we would want to go through the amending process and make it better. I think it's worthy of consideration.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much. I think you're legislation is a good starting point.
Senator MCCAIN. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And we should continue the dialog. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. Clinger .
Mr. CLINGER. No questions, Mr. Chairman. I just want to commend both gentlemen for their interest and for taking a lead in this area, because it is an issue that has not been addressed in a timely fashion and one that has led to the loss of lives, and it's clear that we need to take action, we need to do it as promptly as possible and ensure that we don't have this sort of situation that, Fred, you've had to deal with, with loss of life in your own District.
So I just want to congratulate you both.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Costello, do you have any statement or questions?
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, I'll follow your suggestion and save my questions for the other panel. I appreciate our colleagues being here this morning.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Mr. Cramer?
Mr. CRAMER. No questions, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you. Mr. Menendez?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I have no questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. We have a republican conference on Bosnia going on right now, and so we'll have other Members join us later, but I want to
Ms. DANNER. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. DUNCAN. Ms. Danner, I called on you earlier. I'm sorry. I apologize.
Ms. DANNER. I knew you didn't forget that I was here, since I'm right in front of you.
Mr. DUNCAN. I apologize.
Ms. DANNER. No, no. That's not necessary. Your friends don't expect it, enemies don't deserve it.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 I will hold my questions for the next panel and hope that I have an opportunity to inquire of them before I, too, must leave for another meeting.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Senator and Congressman Heineman. Thank you for being with us.
We'll now call up panel No. 1. We're pleased to have with us today in his first testimony before this subcommitteethis year, at any rateMr. Jim Hall, my good friend and fellow Tennessean who is chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Mr. Hall, it is a privilege and honor to have you with us.
Also, we have one of our finest and most regular witnesses, Mr. David Hinson, who is the outstanding administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us. Mr. Hall, I'll let you go first.
TESTIMONY OF JIM HALL, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD, ACCOMPANIED BY DANIEL CAMPBELL, GENERAL COUNSEL, NTSB; DAVID R. HINSON, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ACCOMPANIED BY DAVID R. HARRINGTON, MANAGER, AIR TRANSPORTATION DIVISION, FAA
Mr. HALL. Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure, a particular pleasure since we both share the same home town, to testify before this important subcommittee.
I am pleased to particapate this morning in this committee's effort to avoid a repeat of the tragic crash of American Eagle flight 3379 at Morrisville, North Carolina.
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Today is the anniversary of that accident, and to the family members of victims who are present today, I want to offer again my condolences.
Mr. Chairman, the Safety Board has completed its investigation. We have made a finding of probable cause. We know what went wrong.
Some of the problems were found, and I'm certain some of those will be fixed, but the problem we are here to talk about this morning, adequate pilot background investigations, has escaped solution in the past. I earnestly hope that we can start to change that this morning.
Flight 3379 was largely a pilot performance accident. It was the result of human error. The captain of the accident aircraft made mistakes under pressure. It was predictable for this captain. Indeed, in some respects it had been predicted, but tragedy was not prevented, so this is not simply the failure of a flying captain. A program designed to select, train, and test pilots also failed.
The Safety Board believes that your committee does the traveling public a great service by focusing public inquiry on why a pilot of doubtful proficiency could pass from one air carrier to the next without any meaningful communication between the two airlines.
Unfortunately, this is a problem we have seen before in three previous accidents the Board has investigated: a Continental Airlines crash at Denver, Colorado, on November 15, 1987, killing 28 people; an accident involving Aloha Island Air in Hawaii on October 18, 1989, killing 20 people; and a Scenic Air Tours accidents at Maui, Hawaii, on April 22, 1992, killing 9 people.
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I believe it would be helpful to the members of this committee if we briefly reviewed the details of our investigation of flight 3379.
As the airplane was on final approach, about a minute before the accident, a warning light illuminated in the cockpit, indicating that the engine igniters were being automatically activated. At first the captain questioned what the light meant. Then he wrongly guessed that an engine had failed. Instruments in the cockpit would have told him otherwise. In fact, the investigation found that there were no preexisting difficulties with either of the engines, and that both were operating until ground impact.
But in the remaining seconds of the flight, the captain failed to assign responsibility in the cockpit. Someone had to fly the plane. Someone had to diagnose the problem. The captain tried to do both. He lost his air speed. He wandered off the glide path. And then he abruptly decided to execute a go-around.
A burst of power directed to only one of the two working engines rolled and stalled the aircraft, and the captain's stall recovery technique was poor.
In the ensuing crash, 15 of the 20 people on board were killed.
What makes flight 3379 so tragic is that the captain's performance had been foreseen. Before joining American Eagle, he had worked with another airline, and that airline had decided to let him go because his piloting abilities were unsatisfactory. Indeed, his previous employer had been concerned with the fact that the accident captain was frequently, as pilots say, ''behind the aircraft,'' and that in an emergency he might freeze up or get tunnel vision.
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American Eagle never learned of any of this until after the accident. From what we can see, they never even asked.
I do not intend this testimony to be a condemnation of the pilot of this flight, but rather to identify a system problem. Unfortunately, flight 3379 is not the first time that the Safety Board has issued a recommendation addressing background checks. In fact, we made similar recommendations following each of the three accidents since 1988, and each time we have had to close those recommendations after an unacceptable response from the FAA.
We now have four accidents, with a total of 72 fatalities, in less than 10 years, involving pilots with a questionable yet undiscovered performance history. Commercial aircraft accidents are so rare that to have four in 7 years attributable even in part to a single cause should be for everyone conclusive evidence of a serious problem.
The questions we at the Safety Board ask ourselves are: why has private industry not done a better job at policing its own practices? And why hasn't the FAA insisted on a requirement for thorough background checks?
I'm afraid, Mr. Chairman, that we do not have good answers to either of these questions. Our earlier recommendations would simply have required that FAA mandate a background check of the type that many in this and other industries already routinely do, making the fact of such checks a part of records inspections by FAA inspectors.
Events now have overtaken these earlier recommendations. The intervening accidents and the repeated inability of the Safety Board to elicit an acceptable response from the FAA and the industry have led to the Board's adoption of a far more encompassing approach to the problem.
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These new recommendations reflect a twofold recognition of the need for quality recordkeeping and the need to have such records used.
The FAA's response to our 1995 recommendations is due in February 1996. It is our hope that this time the response will be favorable. We believe that the work of Congress may prove to be the turning point in producing an answer.
Again, I congratulate you, Chairman Duncan and members of the subcommittee for holding these hearings, and I pledge the Safety Board's full efforts in your efforts.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Hall.
Mr. HINSON. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Congressman Lipinski and members of the committee.
Before I begin my testimony, Mr. Chairman, I, too, met with some members of the families that are here this morning, have talked to them, and offered them our concerns and recognition of the problem and our intention to do something about it.
I also welcome the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee today to discuss the topic of sharing pilot records among airlines. Accompanying me is David Harrington, who is the manager of the FAA's Air Transportation Division.
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As has been stated by Chairman Hall, 1 year ago today there was a tragic aircraft accident at Raleigh-Durham which claimed 15 lives. In the NTSB's investigation of that accident, information about the pilot's performance and qualifications, which had been maintained by the pilot's former employer, came to light.
That information, which reflected on the pilot's judgment and skills, was not available to the new employer, nor was there a requirement that it be provided by the past employer or sought by the new employer.
The NTSB reissued a series of recommendations to the FAA concerning the sharing of pilot information between airlines.
Let me briefly give you my general perspective on the sharing of pilot records between airlines.
First, we think and I think to focus solely on pilot records may be too limiting. I believe that there should be no marginal performers in any safety-critical position in the airline industry, whether they serve as pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, or in any other directly related safety function.
The concern that a potential employing airline may not have pertinent information, perhaps maintained by a prior airline about a prospective employee, is a valid one. Sharing appropriate information between airlines on the performance of pilots and other safety personnel can aid in making informed hiring decisions. Making better hiring decisions concerning operational personnel will produce a net safety benefit. That's common sense.
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Having said that, there are a number of valid concerns that need to be aired and evaluated before rushing to judgment and action on this apparently simple issue. One cause for concern is that there are privacy issues that have been raised concerning release of employee information by employers, although I understand the subcommittee may be hearing from an expert tomorrow who does not believe that there are privacy issues.
Nevertheless, I know that airlines are concerned about subjecting themselves to potential liability for releasing employee information to other parties. At the same time, employees are concerned about not only the potential subjective nature of material to be released, but its accuracy.
There are also human factor issues involved, not the least of which is the uncertainty about and concern whether supervisors will be as forthcoming in evaluating employee performance when that information may have to be made available to others.
These are all important issues that argue for a thoughtful and perhaps even cautious approach to dictating how and what information should be maintained and shared.
I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, that the FAA wants to do what is right. Defining what is right will be rather difficult.
Despite some of the uncertainties, I believe there are steps that should be taken to address the need for appropriate sharing of information between interested parties. One is to provide clear legal protection for those who share data on the performance of pilots and other safety employees. We believe this subcommittee should consider developing legislation to afford airlines appropriate protection from liability that could result from sharing employee records with other airlines.
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It would be necessary to develop carefully any such legislation, however, to ensure that it provides adequate employee protections.
For example, we believe that, as an essential element of fairness, such legislation should afford employees and former employees the opportunity to review and offer corrections to materials to be provided to requesting air carriers.
Also, the degree and extent of immunity for providing information should be carefully constructed and tailored in a way that provides sufficient protection, but which does not inadvertently insulate a carrier from reckless or fraudulent recordkeeping.
Careful consideration should be given to the type of information that airlines would be required to exchange, perhaps using as a baseline the materials on pilot proficiency that airlines are required to maintain under FAR 121.683 and 135.63 and related provisions.
We don't pretend to have all the answers at this time as to how legislation of this nature should be best crafted, but I can assure you of our willingness to work with you on such an effort.
To complement such a legislative framework, we propose to work in partnership with the aviation community, perhaps through the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, or ARAC, to develop a format for exchanging information between airlines for purposes of standardization.
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Now, Mr. Chairman, with respect to the NTSB recommendation that the FAA be the repository on behalf of the airlines for collecting and disseminating pilot record data, we respectfully disagree. Information maintained by the FAA on pilots and other certificated personnel, such as the certificates and ratings held by such individuals and their violation records, is already available.
We believe the proper solution is for the airlines to maintain and share reasonable information rather than establishing a new government system to collect and store information.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your holding this hearing to examine what I believe to be an important issue, particularly as we actively pursue our goal of zero accidents.
We are pleased to have the benefit of the expert testimony from other witnesses you have invited to this hearing. Let me say again that the FAA understands the desirability of ensuring that all safety employees in our air transportation system are duly qualified, and we will work with you to address this problem as expeditiously as possible.
That completes my statement, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Administrator.
Mr. Hall, let me ask you this: in testimony that we'll hear from the next panel, Mr. Babbitt of the Air Line Pilots Association says that this sharing of pilot records is really a subset of a much larger problem, or the tip of the iceberg, I guess, so to speak, and he says that we need to look more at pilot experience.
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Do you agree with that statement? And do you think that the NTSB recommendations should have been broader and included more than just the sharing of pilot records?
Mr. HALL. Mr. Chairman, as I pointed out in my testimony, we have made recommendations on four different occasions in this area, and clearly the primary safety objective of the Board is the transfer of records and the sharing of records between the airlines.
But there is another issue, an issue brought out in this investigation, and that's the quality assurance of training and checking programs of the airlines. We found a situation in which, as a result of a change in the way that records were maintained by American Airlines, that where its predecessor flagship airlines had very detailed records and descriptions on Captain Hillis' performance, the records maintained at what then became the parent company of these commuter airlines became basically a scrubbed pass/fail sheet of information.
We had made recommendations earlier as a result of a DC10 incident in this area, and I would be glad to provide to the committee for the record a copy of those different records that were part of our investigation.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you.
Mr. Hinson, I thought it was three recommendations, but Mr. Hall has just said it has been four times that the NTSB has recommended to the FAA that these records should be shared, and in his testimony he describes the response from the FAA as beinghe said each time there was an unacceptable response.
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I don't really want to create a fight between witnesses who are sitting next to each other, but why has the FAA refused basically to respond? And I assume that you feel the FAA response has not been inadequate or unacceptable?
Mr. HINSON. No. As a matter of fact, I do think that the previous responses were probably, certainly in hindsight, not adequate, and I have suggested in my testimony that we agree with the intent of this committee and with the Board's recommendation to create a system that would provide for the sharing of records between air carriers. How we define that system and what the parameters are remain to be determined.
All of those recommendations were made before I became the administrator, and I'm not pointing back at what was done. The FAA's historical perspective has been to accomplish, through cooperation and suggestion rather than legislation, certain activities, and this was one of those.
One can quarrel now and say it wasn't adequate, even though the FAA issued, on many occasions, guidance through ACs and other vehicles to ask carriers to exchange this information, and also made them aware that a lot of this data is available at the agency.
But I don't disagree with the Board's recommendation in this area. I can see why going forward it isas we strive for zero accidents, we're looking for every little avenue that's available to us to remove the opportunities for accidents, and this is one of them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Hall, I know that the Safety Board is involved or works with other modes or types of transportation besides aviation. Are there other Federal requirements or background checks that are more-detailed, are more rigorous in other areas of transportation; for instance, truck drivers and any others that you can think of?
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Mr. HALL. Well, the commercial drivers license Federal Highway Administration regulations require an investigation of a new driver's employment record for 3 preceding years, and the new employer must make a written record of the former employer's response, which becomes a permanent part of the driver's qualification file.
So in the area of our heavy commercial trucks that are on our highways, there are records that are maintained, and a requirement for those to be maintained and exchanged.
Mr. DUNCAN. So do you think it's accurate to say that truck drivers have to go through more than pilots do in regard to background checks and Federal requirements?
Mr. HALL. At least there is in place a requirement that this information be maintained and be exchanged.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Hinson, let me ask one last very brief question.
The ''USA Today'' series that I referred to earlier and that Congressman Heineman mentioned in his testimony, after they had run that or at the conclusion of it, I guess, they published a statement saying that they had had calls from many dozens of pilots, and that the theme was, from other pilots, that there are far too many marginal pilots to continue flying.
I said in my opening statement that I thought that we were talking about a very small minority of pilots. But what is your reaction to that statement? Do you agree with that, that there are just far too many marginal pilots out there today?
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Mr. HINSON. I would hope not. There are in place, at all the scheduled air carriers in the United States, very extensive and demanding training programs, and, as a matter of fact, most of the air carriers have very rigorous interviewing and employment practices.
What we arewhat the ChairmanI don't want to put words in the Chairman's mouth, but what I read in their recommendation, and we certainly agree with it and what we want is the same thing, and that is to remove these rare instances, these very rare instances, where a very marginal performernot only a pilot, but perhaps some other direct safety function person, is allowed to continue to serve the public.
It is the rare, very rare instance, that we're trying to deal with here.
As the overwhelming majority, 99.some percent of all the pilots out there are very, very professional and very good. I'm very satisfied about that.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I yield my time to Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Lipinski.
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I think it's fairly clear from testimony of both NTSB and FAA that the focus of this problem is in the regional and commuter and in the small charter airline sector of aviation, although you can't relax your vigilance among the part 121 carriers, the major airlines. Still, this is the area we're talking about.
This is not a new problem. The issue goes back at least to 1985, January, Reno, Nevada. Galaxy Airlines crashed, killing 69 people. In the ensuing NTSB inquiry into the tragedy, as I said in my opening remarks, the crew of three on that Electra heard a thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, as the aircraft was just becoming airborne. All three in the flight deck began troubleshooting. They forgot to fly the aircraft. And when someone finally realized that they had a problem with airspeed, it was too late.
Eight years later, Northwest Air Link, December 1993, in Hibbing, in my back yard, practically, six miles from my actual home, a crash in which you had a relatively senior pilot, relatively junior co-pilot, both of them qualified. Pilot takes an unusual maneuver for landing through on approach through ice-forming clouds and crashed.
This was a situation in which the co-pilot clearly was intimidated by the pilot. There was notin both cases, there was not a game plan among the cockpit crew to deal with troubled situations. There was unwillingness, apparently, on the part of the young co-pilot to challenge the Captain. That was apparent from his previous record of employment. That information was not made available to Air Link.
Whether having it made available would have made a difference or not, we don't know, but certainly it ought to have pointed up a problem.
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Sharing this kind of information is crucially important. How we go about it I think is equally important. We have to protect the privacy. You have to also give pilots an opportunity to protect themselves against false or inaccurate or incomplete information on their record when it is provided to another carrier.
But at least there ought to be a clearinghouse system. There ought to be, as I cited in my opening remarks, something similar to the national driver register, to serve as a pointer system.
Within 6 seconds of your application for a driver license in one State, that State can get information about you and whether you have a driver license in another State, and in 30 seconds can find out what that record is, and in a little over a minute can provide information at the point of issue for the potentially issuing State to make a decision whether to issue a driver license or not.
As I said, it took a long time to get to that point, but, Mr. Hinson and Mr. Hall, I would like you both to respond about establishing such a clearinghouse role for the FAA, building on the availability of information already from the NDR.
Mr. HINSON. Thank you, Congressman Oberstar. That is already available at the FAA by computer. You can get every pilot's record of all of hisrelative to the same as the driver's license, you can get all of his actual ratings held, all of his medical certificates. If he's had a violation or an enforcement action, it's all listed there. It's available to any inquiring party from our recordkeeping center in Oklahoma.
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What we do not keep are the more-detailed training records that occur every 6 months or four or five times a year, depending upon the circumstance. We dothose are reposited at the specific carrier, but, similar to the drivers license records, we have it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. How many inquiries a year do you get from airlines for that information?
Mr. HINSON. Let me ask Mr. Harrington. He may know. I do not know the answer to that.
Mr. HARRINGTON. I'm sorry, sir. I don't have a number. There were 3,000 pilots hired last year.
Mr. HINSON. We'll get that for you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, there were 3,000 pilots hired last year. Can you provide
Mr. HARRINGTON. Yes, sir, I will.
Mr. OBERSTAR [continuing]. Information on how many such inquiries were made?
Mr. HARRINGTON. Yes, sir. We'll do that.
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[The information received follows:]
For calendar year 1995, the FAA received about 2000 requests from air carriers for information on approximately 14,600 individual airmen. (The term ''airman'' includes pilots as well as other individuals, such as mechanics; the FAA's records do not show separate figures for requests for pilots information.)
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Hall, do you have a comment?
Mr. HALL. I think that was one of the reasons we felt this new set of recommendations made sense. The system is in place in Oklahoma City. This would seem to be a common-sense repository for the additional information from the training records to also be maintained and be accessed.
Mr. OBERSTAR. One final question, Mr. Chairman.
Are airlines required to file with the FAA records on pilots who had been dismissed for poor safety performance?
Mr. HINSON. No, sir, they are not.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Should they be?
Mr. HINSON. It would depend upon the circumstances within which that requirement was put forward. To the degree that the records are required to be exchanged between requesting parties, as this committee is suggesting and Senator McCain suggested in his opening remarks, with your colleague from the House, yes, it would be appropriate.
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Whether or not the FAA should keep records of employees who have been terminated for performance is an open question.
Mr. OBERSTAR. A mechanic can't release an aircraft that's in poor condition.
Mr. HINSON. Yes, sir. That's correct.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. CLINGER. Gentlemen, thank you for your testimony this morning. I just have a couple of questions following up on Mr. Oberstar's question to Mr. Hinson.
You do keep a great deal of information about pilots; however, at the present time no airline is required to access that information in making a determination as to whether to hire or not.
In the case of the American Eagle situation, had the airline accessed that information, would it have been the sort of information that would have given them pause as to whether to employ that pilot? In other words, is there enough there to really warrant a hiring decision?
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Mr. HINSON. My answer would be speculation, but I doubt it. I think the records that were in detail by his former employer would have been by far the strongest indicator that this gentleman may have had marginal performance.
Mr. CLINGER. But that information would not be in your files?
Mr. HINSON. No, sir. Only if he had, in fact, a violation or an enforcement action. Other than his medical history and his license history, there is no actual training data per se at the FAA.
Mr. CLINGER. Now, I'm a little confused on your earlier testimony. I understand you to say that you agreed with Mr. Hall's recommendation at one point, and yet I think, as I understood, the recommendation was that there be a mandated requirement that airlines check with you for the information and that you would become sort of the regulatory supervisor of this exercise.
Do you agree or disagree with that?
Mr. HINSON. I agree with the first half of what you heard. I don't want to be the regulatory supervisor, however. I think the legislation that the committees are considering should provide for the requirement that air carriers or interested parties exchange information, and in the process of deciding how to do that, the kinds of information and the protections that are necessary can be determined.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 We do not believe that the FAA should particularly be the policemen on this issue. This should be
Mr. CLINGER. Or should be involved in determining what sorts of information should be available?
Mr. HINSON. We can certainly advise on that. Yes. That's what the ARACthe Aviation Regulatory Advisory Committeedoes. We all sit down with industry and decide the proper way to reach where we want to go.
Mr. CLINGER. The problem I have with that isMr. Babbitt will be testifying next, and in his testimony I think they raise the question of the great deal of diversity or divergence you might have in the kinds of information that one airline collects versus another.
Mr. HINSON. Yes.
Mr. CLINGER. Somebody who is doing this might be mean-spirited, or for whatever reason would have a whole different kind of subjective approach to this.
I think without some place being able to ensure that there is some universality or conformity to information that's being divulged here, it really does become a dangerous kind of an operation.
Mr. HINSON. You're pointing out a number of the problems that we see in trying to determine how to do this and protect everybody's interests.
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The call for ''standardization'' also is not nearly as clear to me as it may be to other people. There are numerous benefits that accrue to the training philosophies in our science of training by having different air carriers and different organizations approach it in different fashions.
To assume that a party or parties know enough to say this is the way to do it all is very presumptive, in my opinion, and something that we should approach very carefully.
There is a richness that accrues from having different parties look at this process differently and try and attempt to introduce new ideas, and to have the Federal Government saying, ''This is the form. This is the way you will fill it out, and that's all we're going to use,'' is probably not a good idea.
Mr. CLINGER. Mr. Hall, at your suggestion that the FAA become the repository for these records, and that they assume a more aggressive role in ensuring that those records are made available from one airline to the other, wouldn't those records then become subject to the Freedom of Information Act requests? And wouldn't that, in fact, pose a danger that records could be routinely released to embarrass airlines or to be used for some competitive advantage or otherwise?
In other words, isn't there a danger here that we would have too broad a dissemination of that information?
Mr. HALL. My understanding, Congressman, is that there is an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act for most personnel records.
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Mr. CLINGER. And so you're saying that we could clearly indicate that this
Mr. HALL. Right.
Mr. CLINGER [continuing]. Was to be included in the personnel record.
Mr. HALL. Yes.
Mr. CLINGER. And therefore subject to a FOIA exemption?
Mr. HALL. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLINGER. OK. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I believe my time has expired.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Clinger.
Mr. COSTELLO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Hinson, you stated, in response to a question by Mr. Oberstar and in your testimony you indicated that there is information maintained by the FAA on pilots and other personnel, and that information such as the certificates and ratings held by individuals, their violation records, and so on, are already maintained and available to the airlines.
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One, I guess my question is: why have the airlines not accessed that information? Is it because of the liability issue?
Mr. HINSON. They do access it, quite a bit, in fact, depending upon the carrier and the way they do business. We have numerous requests. We just don't know the exact number.
Maybe Mr. Harrington would comment further.
Mr. HARRINGTON. We did a survey of 152 airlines, and the vast majorityI'd say higher than 90 percentage areadid use that data base in one form or another. There are three data bases that they use.
Mr. COSTELLO. In the records that you have, when an airline attempts to access that information from the FAA, do you make a record of that in each case?
Mr. HARRINGTON. I believe a record is kept in Oklahoma city of the inquiries. There isas I said, there are three data bases. There is a financial charge for two of those, so I think that would give you the record that anybody would be looking for.
Mr. COSTELLO. The other issue I think Mr. Clinger touched on is about the Freedom of Information Act. I was going to ask you, Mr. Hinson, you said that pilot records are maintained by the FAA and that that information is available for any inquiry. Does that mean the
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Mr. HINSON. No, sir. Most of the pilot records are maintained by the specific air carrier involved. I said actually there are no discreet pilot records at the FAA. That's not quite true. Some pilotI just remembered my own case. I have my own file, and I was looking at it the other day. My air transport rating, my ATP rating forms from the FAA, are in my pilot training record because the FAA actually administered this exam to me more years ago than I want to recall.
But, other than that, probably 99 percent or more of all the training records are kept by the specific air carrier or the individual, not the FAA.
Mr. COSTELLO. The other question, as you know, the Air Line Pilots Association will be testifyingMr. Babbitt, I believeon the next panel that will appear this morning. They have said that the larger problem is, in fact, that we need to have higher academic standards for our pilots. Do you agree with that? If so, I'd like you to comment.
Mr. HINSON. I have to be careful about what I think the Federal role should be in determining standards for people to acquire a Federal license to operate an aircraft in a specific job. We have never required any educational level as a prerequisite for the privilege of acquiring a license and operating an aircraft, either as a private pilot, a commercial pilot, or an air transport pilot, or, for that matter, a balloon pilot, recreational pilot, or any other type of aviation function.
Nor do we require an educational standardformal educational standard for any other safety-oriented job: mechanics, dispatchers, flight attendants, etc.
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We only require that they meet the standards of performance and knowledge that we deem to be necessary to exercise those privileges, and that is probably where the Federal role belongs. I think to go beyond that would require a long hearing and a lot of debate.
Mr. COSTELLO. So, in other words, you do not want to offer any comments concerning if we should have academic standards or not?
Mr. HINSON. I think that's a broadit's a legitimate policy question for the Federal Government. We, historically, have not chosen to insert those standards; however, in the industry, in the commercial industry, different air carriers set all levels of standards. Some require college degrees. Some will only hire military pilots, etc., etc. That's where that standard is set today and probably where it should continue to be set.
Mr. COSTELLO. Let me give you a hypothetical question then. The two colleagues that appeared here this morning, Senator McCain, as you know, has introduced a bill in the Senate. One of our colleagues has introduced a bill in the House to address these issues.
If we amended either one of those bills to put a 4-year degree or higher academic standards in that bill, what would the FAA's position be?
Mr. HINSON. I can't tell you this morning. We would have to sit down and talk about it in some detail.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Hall, I would ask you the same question. Do you believe that, as the Air Line Pilots Association believes, that we ought to have higher academic standards for potential pilots?
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Mr. HALL. As I mentioned earlier, Congressman, there seems to be two safety issues here of interest to the publicthe transfer of records, and then we at the Board always are trying to look to the future. I think if you look at the future, we need to look at the changing dynamic of the population of pilots.
In 1994, the 12 major airlines hired 1,041 pilots, 82 percent of which had a military background. The commuter regional aircraft industry hired 1,656 pilots, 22 percent of which had a military background.
My experience in the Army taught me that there is a pre-screening and a weeding out process that goes on in the military, particularly in the flight schools, that has served us well in maintaining flight safety in our country. As that dynamic changes, and as we see fewer and fewer people coming in with that background, I think that's an area that needs to be looked at and examined by all interested parties in aviation safety on how we can be sure we maintain the high standards we enjoy today.
Mr. COSTELLO. I would just point out, in ''USA Today,'' September 28, 1995, they point out here that the Air Force spends about over $500,000 on average to train one pilot. It exposes pilots to the latest aircraft and computer technology. And U.S. flight schools, which rely almost completely on tuition, can't afford such training. Most student pilots train in single-engine planes, quite unlike those flown by regional and major airlines.
So it seems to me we obviously have two standards, one for military pilots and one for pilots outside of the military.
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Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Costello.
Mr. LAHOOD. I'm sorry I missed your testimony. I was at a markup in the Ag Committee.
Just for the people that are here and for those people who might be interested in this subject, if each of you could address the idea: should the flying public be concerned that there are pilots who are not well-trained or well-qualified? Should there be some alarm bells go off whenyou know, all of us that are sitting up here fly on a very regular basis, and we step on an airplane, we assume that the people that are in the cockpit are the best-trained, the most-qualified, that if something happens they'll know how to handle it in an instantaneous moment. When we pile on these planes on a Friday afternoon and see 200 or 300 people sitting on these planes and flying through thunderstorms going into O'Hareyou know, I have the highest admiration for the people that are in those cockpits because I don't know how they do their job, but obviously I have a feeling that they're well-trained and well-qualified.
But I'm wondering, there are a lot of people here today. There is a lot of interest in this hearing. I was astounded when I came in this room and saw all of these people. Obviously there is an interest. C-Span is covering it, I guess. I think the question is: should people that board airplanes have a thought in their mind that the most-qualified, talented people, well-trained people, are in the cockpit?
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I'd like for all of you to address that question.
Mr. HALL. Congressman, first let me say the role that you assign us at the National Transportation Safety Board is to investigate accidents. I stated in my earlier testimony, which I was not able to share with you, that commercial accidents are very rare, and I have said on numerous occasions that aviation in this country is very, very safe. I have the highest regard for Administrator Hinson and all the individuals that work every day at the FAA to keep that system safe.
But we have investigated, since 1987, four accidents that involved pilot error. As a result of our investigations, we found that had the employer had information from a previous employer, we believe common sense would have said that that individual should not have been in that cockpit.
Now, those are rare events, because accidents in commercial aviation are rare. But, again, we have a great deal of emphasis at the Federal level on safety and regulation. So, any time we have incidents like this, it causes us concern, and we think those concerns obviously need to be addressed.
I hope that's responsive to your question.
Mr. LAHOOD. Well, if one of these people came up to you from the public here and said, ''Should I be worried about boarding an airplane this afternoon because the pilot is not well-trained or well-qualified?'' what would you tell them?
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Mr. HALL. First, I'd tell them that the chairman lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and every weekend he flies home on both major carriers and commuter airlines.
So, I would say it's certainly not anything that I would be concerned about. However, we have a loophole presently existing where people can be passed from airline to airline that are poor performers, and we need to close that loophole.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Hinson?
Mr. HINSON. Thank you, Congressman. It's good to see you.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you.
Mr. HINSON. There are a number of ways to answer your question, and perhaps it would be best if I sort of took a larger view for you.
To answer your question about is it safe, the short answer is yes, very safe.
There are about 70,000-plus pilots in the commercial industry today in the United States. There are over 650,000 airmen who hold licenses of various kinds and typesabout 70,000-some in the air carrier industry today, 50,000-some with the big airlines, so-called larger carriers, and 20,000-some, I think 17,000 to 20,000, in the so-called ''regional carriers.'' In that pilot population, if you were to build a distribution of capability and skill, you would build a bell-shaped curve, as you do with any distribution issue.
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The whole effort of the FAA and everybody else involved is to keep the lowest pilot at the bottom of that bell-shaped curve above the minimum safety standard. That's our job in life.
Occasionally and rarely a pilot will slip below that standard. Almost always that pilot is either terminated or trained or the problem is addressed. You would expect, in a normal, functioning environment like this, with that many people, a rather large population, pilots that start out being good change, their age changes, their circumstances change.
Pilot skills vary as a function of time. Some start out marginal and become very good. Some start out very good and become later not quite so good. But in all cases, the training programs that the agency has developed with the cooperation of the industry, with all of the airline pilot associations across the United States, keeps the lowest person on that bell-shaped curve above the minimum safety standards.
Yes, the pilots are qualified. Yes, they're professionals. Yes, you can get on an airplane. Yes, you can be assured you're going to fly safely.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. LaHood.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. TRAFICANT. I have a couple of brief points, and I'd like to read something briefly first. I'd like for you to distill and digest that, then I will ask you a couple of direct questions. I would just require a yes or no answer, if you will, so that I can ferret some of this information out for myself.
The information I have is that air carriers are required to conduct security checks of pilot applicants prior to employment because they have unescorted access to secure areas. These checks must include references and employment history verification, and air carriers also conduct pre-employment screens for drug abuse.
Also, there are no FAA requirements to verify flight experience, determine an applicant's safety or enforcement history, pilot training and performance in previous position, or any criminal or driving history.
The information we have is that the vast majority of air carriers do obtain the driving records of prospective pilots, but the information we have also is that most carriers do not attempt to obtain pilot performance records.
Let me say this again now for my direct questions. The vast majority of air carriers do obtain the driving records of prospective pilots, but the vast majority of air carriers do not attempt to obtain pilot performance records?
The first questionjust yes or noMr. Harrington?
Mr. HARRINGTON. I believe the vast majority do ask for information on both of those issues.
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Mr. TRAFICANT. They do obtain performance records?
Mr. HARRINGTON. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Campbell?
Mr. CAMPBELL. Well, the information that I have seen in the GAO report that was done in 1988 would indicate that on pilot performance the answer is going to be less than yes and no. Some will, some won't. The information on the driving record I think is a requirement.
Mr. TRAFICANT. My last questionjust yes or nois there any regulation, executive order, law, court decision, statute, that prevents the industry from obtaining those records and obtaining a complete history of past performance activities by individuals who carry that responsibility of flying these commercial crafts? Mr. Harrington?
Mr. HARRINGTON. I can't specifically state what that would be that would prevent it.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Hall.
Mr. HALL. No. I do not know of any.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Campbell?
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Mr. CAMPBELL. I don't know of any, sir.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Just in closing, let me just say this: the industry can go forth and obtain information and certify the competency and the ability of these prospective pilots. Now, I understand standards are important, but a 4-year degree in Shakespeare may not necessarily make someone a good pilot.
The point I'm trying to make is: the Federal Government is always called intrusive. The Federal Government is always reaching in and micro-managing. The bottom line is: when the industry fails to address themselves to salient points like this that are cause for such a hearing, then evidently there is no choice but for the chairman and the subcommittee and the committee to look into those particular areas.
I have high regards for the FAA and I believe that they are attempting, within the scope, to do a good job, but I think the industry bears a responsibility for some of these things, themselves. I don't know who is right or wrong, and I'll accept your answer at this point, but, in closing, the facts that I have say that you do not have as good a history on flying performance of pilots than you know about their ability to drive a car.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Traficant, for those very fine points. In fact, I just whispered to Mr. Coon that it's amazing how often you and I think alike or I agree with you on certain things.
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Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, gentlemen.
Mr. Administrator, is it fair to say that, from what I heard of your comments, that you reject the previous FAA statements that said, ''It does not believe that any benefits derived from such regulatory change would outweigh the cost''? This is in reference to the Transportation Board's recommendations of promulgating and enforcing the regulatory change that is being suggested.
Mr. HINSON. Essentially that's true.
Mr. MENENDEZ. OK. Is it fair to say that the FAA has no requirement to verify flight experience, determine an applicant's safety enforcement history, pilot training, and performance in his previous position or any criminal or driving history as a requirement?
Mr. HINSON. That's correct.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Should we not?
Mr. HINSON. Well, I'll give you my position, and I will do that, but I'd like Mr. Harrington, who's really the expert here, tothat's why I brought him along, so let me ask him to answer that question.
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Mr. HARRINGTON. I think we're prepared to work with the industry to figure out what the right balance is to provide a sensible safety approach to sharing information that is relevant to the capability of the pilot.
The current data bases do not providethere is no regulatory basis now where you have to share the kind of information we're talking about.
The one thing, though, we need to think about and work at as an industry is the fact that many of the comments and training records today are subjective, and they arewe have to somehow figure out what's appropriate to exchange between airlines.
For example, as a pilot, I can tell you I've made a mistake on a check ride. I've made a mistake flying an airplane. If that's recorded in a certain manner, that could prevent me from being employed.
So we have to be very careful in terms of what kind of information is exchanged, and I think that's what we're preparing to work with the industry on, on how to standardize that.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Well, I appreciate that answer, and I want to get to some of what you just suggested in a minute, but it just seems to meam I wrong or is getting an airlines pilot's license a privilege, not a right?
Mr. HINSON. It is a privilege and they work very hard for it, the individuals that apply.
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Mr. MENENDEZ. And I certainly agree with you, but it is a privilege, and, as I understood it, trying to get my driver's license for my car when I was young, the privilege has standards that you have to meet. It's not like some things that we have rights that we automatically obtain. So, therefore, both your answer previously to Mr. Costello and this answer, I understand that you're saying, just looking at transfer of information in and of itself, may be too myopic, too limiting.
But I'm also concerned that there areI sense some reluctance to establish a standard for what, in essence, is a privilege, and I think that we should be working to establish standards that can be lived with within the industry and the pilots, but to heighten the possibility that your zero goal in terms of accidents is reached.
And so to do that it would seem to me that when we don't require flight experience, to verify flight experience, to determine an applicant's safety and enforcement history, to determine an applicant's pilot training and performance in his previous position, or any criminal or driving history, and I think about what we go through in terms of obtaining a simple car license, and I think about the privilege that these people obtain, which they work very hard for, but also the responsibility of so many people's lives that they take with them when they obtain that privilege, is something that I find a little disconcerting.
Mr. HINSON. Let me give youin a way you're coming sort of obtusely to a point that I think's very important. We set standards for the privilege of exercising, for instance, an ATP, an airline transport pilot rating, which means a person is certified and trained and the FAA gives him a license or her a license and says, ''You may now act as captain of a commercial airplane in the United States.'' It is very possible, and in some cases actual, that an air carrier will set even higher standards and require even higher standards than the FAA imposes through their own training program because they decided they want to have their skill levels in some areas be greater. They might require more formal education. There is a whole host of things they may require because they are a private organization.
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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. Hinson
Mr. HINSON. If one of their pilots fails and that record is transfered, but that pilot still theoretically meets FAA standards, is that person to be barred? These are the kinds of questions that are real to real people.
Mr. MENENDEZ. I understand.
Mr. HINSON. That's why this
Mr. MENENDEZ. And I appreciate, one, that airline may establish the higher standard, but it is also possible that there are many airlines that may not or may only live within the standards of that which you promote.
I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. No. I'm sorry to interrupt, but we just have about 5 minutes left to vote, and we've got to leave. We'll take a very brief recess, and I think maybe just have a couple of more questions for this panel, and we'll be back in about 5 minutes.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Administrator, let me go back briefly to something that Mr. Oberstar got into earlier. And I understand your testimony is certainly correct that this is an issue that maybe appears simple but has a lot of ramifications to it, and I also understand your concerns about being required to maintain detailed records on 70,000 commercial pilots, but I would assume that it is really pretty rare that one of the airlines dismisses a pilot because of a safety violation.
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I don't know how often that occurs during the year, but if that is correct that it just occasionally occurs, there may be policy reasons for not wanting to keep that type of record on the computer data base that you mentioned earlier about pilots. But surely that would not be too much of a burden for the FAA to keep that from a recordkeeping standpoint, would it?
Mr. HINSON. No, sir, not in that context; however, in the instant case I believe the gentleman resigned, and in this case that would not have shown up if we followed your suggestion.
There may be other circumstances where we would not be able to achieve the objective that the Board wishes and the FAA wants and I think this committee wants. I do think that, as I suggested, working through ARAC, working with the committee on the legislation, we can achieve the goals that I believe you want.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you. I want to call on Mr. Oberstar at this time.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Very briefly, FAA deserves great credit for the progress it's made, particularly under your leadership, Mr. Administrator. It took almost 5 years of wheedling, cajoling, pressuring, holding hearings, introducing legislation, to finally get flight attendant flight duty time regulations issued.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 It has taken almost the same amount of time to come to pilots flight and duty regulations, which you and the department are about to announce.
And you've moved on the single standard of safety between part 121 and part 135 carriers. It is all very much to your credit and to the credit of the NTSB, which time and again has highlighted these issues and pressed on the FAA the need and the responsibility to act.
But if we go back to Galaxy Airlines and January 1985; Northwest Air Link, 1993; to the North Carolina American Eagle crash, and to other incidents in the commuter and regional field, we see a persistent lingering problem.
Mr. Hinson, you are the chief safety officer. What is your view of an airline that would knowingly withhold information about a pilot's poor safety performance, not in the raw sense of that phrase, but in the context of your statement that there might be concern whether supervisors would be ''as forthcoming in evaluating employee performance when that information may have to be made available to others''?
Mr. HINSON. Clearly
Mr. OBERSTAR. What is your view of an airline that would knowingly conduct such practice when there is a concern about a pilot's performance?
Mr. HINSON. Clearly, that would be unacceptable; however, I'm not aware and would assume that no airline knowingly does that. If they do it at all, it is on advice of their counsel because of the existing legal environment and all the laws that pertain to employee protections, I assume.
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One of thethis is one of those very important and sensitive issues that, in drafting the legislation to require that air carriers exchange information, will have to be discussed.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Hinson, the opening paragraph of the FAA's 1958 charter, very opening paragraph, says, ''Safety shall be maintained to the highest possible degree.'' Is that airline, is that executive, is that supervisor acting in the highest interest of safety if they withhold information because they are afraid of litigation, because they are afraid that it might become public information at some later time in some other carrier's hands?
Mr. HINSON. Not in the context in which you have said it. No, sir. They are not upholding the highest safety standards.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Chairman Hall?
Mr. HINSON. I'm agreeing with your comment.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. Chairman Hall?
Mr. HALL. I would agree with you, Congressman. I would not feel that they are fulfilling their responsibility to the public, to the certificate they operate under, and I think you stated it very correctly.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You have also found that some airlines do not even bother to make inquiries of previous employers?
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Mr. HALL. Regretfully, yes, sir. That has been information that we have gleaned in our investigations.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Should there be a regulatory requirement for airlines to make such inquiries?
Mr. HALL. Well, first, as you point out, I think there is a moral obligation on them to do it, but since we have had accidents in which it has not been done, then yes, I think, as we previously recommended, the FAA should require it.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. Mr. Menendez, I believe you had something else you wanted to go back and
Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just very briefly, I have one final question for both Mr. Hinson and Chairman Hall. In the testimony that we'll hear in a little while from Captain Babbitt of the Air Line Pilots Association, he says, Chairman Hall, that you've onlyand I think Mr. Hinson has alluded to it in his testimonyyou've only touched upon one issue of a much broader scope of things we should be considering.
They cite fundamental educational background requirements, initial airmanship training and standardization of that training, pre-employment screening processes, including new entrants into the airline industry and individual moving between airlines, and continued training, evaluation, and qualification of airmen after gainingairmen and women after gaining employment with the airline industry.
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Is that not a broader scope that the Transportation Safety Board should be recommending? Is the limitation to the one item you have suggested? Isn't that just much too limiting to really tell us that we should feel safer as a result of that?
Mr. HALL. Well, Congressman, as I mentioned previously, I think that there is merit to Captain Babbitt's concerns in that there are two issues that did come out of thethat have emerged from our study of the commuter industry and the regional airline industry and from this accident. There is obviously the exchange of information, and then there is the quality of training.
As I mentioned earlier, as we see the dynamic change in how pilots enter the system, and the change that's taking place in how they are being trained and qualifications to be in the cockpit, I had indicated to Captain Babbitt that that was an area that the Board would certainly consider for one of our safety studies.
Obviously, our primary interest here is the focus of getting current record information exchanged between the carriers.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. Hinson?
Mr. HINSON. I essentially agree with Chairman Hall on that issue.
Mr. MENENDEZ. And one last question. Isn't it possible, in this concern about the subjectivity of some of the pilot performance reviews that would be supposedly transferrable under the potential legislation that might be considered here, isn't it possible to devise a standard that would be less subjective and therefore less onerous to the pilots in the context of being worried about some form of repercussion or that the subjectivity level of their performance be less of a factor that they should be concerned about?
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I mean, it would seem to me that we could strike a better balance here that everybody could accept. Isn't that possible to do?
Mr. HINSON. Let me comment first and then I'll ask Mr. Harrington to also add his comments.
There is no beginning and no end in the training continuum. I've been in this end of the business a long time, and I've actually written training programs, I've administered flight checks, I've hired pilots, fired pilots, graded pilots, been involved in numerous committees through my career in training. I know quite a bit about it.
It is always improving. We've evolved from simple check forms and simple in-airplane maneuvers to sophisticated crew training within the simulator environment, to sophisticated observation of crews performing in actual flying on-line flights.
We are continuing, as an industry and as a science, to evolve to better and better training and measurements of crew performance. It is and will continue to be an evolving science. How we specifically say and quantify, I think your question is, to a standard or some relevant standard so that it is not totally subjective has been an ongoing debate for 50 years.
However, that is not to say we can't continue to address it and perhaps accommodate it in the context that you suggest.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. HARRINGTON. Two points, sir. One is that I think we'd hate to lose the subjective comments. In many cases, they reflect far more than a comment on an airman's ability. They may give you a trend information about a particular training program. For example, if a particular event is a difficult one for a number of pilots, it may point toward the training program rather than the pilots' abilities, so you do need those sorts of comments.
The second thing, I think we can work with the industry and devise a system that does enable airlines to share enough information so that that very small number of marginal pilots that may be in the system can be identified if they've been released for performance reasons.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Menendez, for very fine questions and comments.
Mr. COSTELLO. One final question, Mr. Chairman.
We talked a little bit about it, and we have some information about the fact that airlines are concerned about sharing information because of the liability aspect, lawsuits and so on, and I just wonder if any of you have any knowledge as to how many lawsuits are brought by either airline employees or pilots as a result of airlines sharing information concerning a pilot's performance.
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Mr. HINSON. I can't give you a specific number. I can tell you experientially, though, that over the years there have been numerous, hundreds of cases brought by individual pilots in their own circumstance alleging improper training or abuse by their employer or in some other way they've been disadvantaged when a company has attempted to terminate a pilot for lack of performancehundreds of them. There is a lot of evidence. I just can't give you a specific number.
Mr. COSTELLO. So you would say that it's a valid concern on the part of the airlines?
Mr. HINSON. Yes, sir, I do.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Hall?
Mr. HALL. I don't have any statistics. I don't know whether Mr. Campbell, our general counsel, has any comment he'd like to add.
Mr. CAMPBELL. I don't think there is any question, sir, that there is a litigation risk. When we looked at it, I didn't find any reported cases in reportable data bases that you can search electronically. But that doesn't indicate to me that there is not a litigation risk here, and I take it to be a real problem if you're going to be involved in the disclosure of records, that these kinds of things will arise.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Costello.
Gentlemen, thank you for very helpful testimony. We certainly appreciate your appearance here today.
Mr. HALL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HINSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Oberstar and Mr. Lipinski asked me to state that they had to leave to attend a conference on the Interstate Commerce Commission and that legislation, and that they hope to be back shortly.
We will call up the next panel. This panel includes: Captain J. Randolph Babbitt, who is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association; Mr. Walter S. Coleman, who is president of the Regional Airlines Association; and Mr. Edward A. Merlis, who is senior vice president for the Air Transport Association.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. Without objection, I suppose we'll just proceed in the order in which the committee staff has listed these witnesses, and that would be Captain Babbitt first, Mr. Coleman second, and Mr. Merlis third.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. Babbitt, you may begin your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF CAPT. J. RANDOLPH BABBITT, PRESIDENT, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION; WALTER S. COLEMAN, PRESIDENT, REGIONAL AIRLINE ASSOCIATION; AND EDWARD A. MERLIS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
Mr. BABBITT. Thank you, sir. Good morning to you all. I appreciate the opportunity to testify this morning.
I am Randy Babbitt. I'm the president of the Air Line Pilots Association. Our Association represents 40 airlines now and almost 45,000 pilots.
I can tell you that no one is more anxious or more concerned to weed out unqualified pilots than those of us who might have to share a cockpit with someone like that.
You do have a full copy of my remarks on the subject of pilot records. Also, for the record, I'm going to provide a report that was written back in August 1993. It's entitled ''The Pilot and Aviation Maintenance Technician Blue Ribbon Panel,'' for the record, as well.
While we certainly don't oppose the intent of tracking information about pilot skills or, more importantly, the lack of them in the interest of safety, we have characterized the NTSB's recommendations as somewhat of a Band-Aid approach to a much broader subject. The subject must be addressed, and that is the need to review the initial training and qualification process, and also pilot hiring and review procedures to ensure that only the best and the brightest get into our Nation's cockpits, that only the sharpest candidates remain in the cockpit, and that questionable candidates never get into the system, period.
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The centerpiece of the NTSB's recommendations is that pertinent standardized information concerning pilot qualifications be maintained by airlines and shared by airlines and independent training facilities.
It is our contention that compiling such standardized records is difficult, if not impossible, when the hiring and the training processes, themselves, are not standardized.
Currently, most airlines use methods and standards that are far in excess of the current FARs and advisory circulars, but these methods and the different criteria and standards are extraordinarily diverse.
The training programs, as well, lack sufficient standardization, in our view, and allow way too much latitude where the measurement and grading criteria are concerned.
And we also have to question whether the programs that would require a candidate to actually pay with their own money doesn't automatically disqualify many otherwise very worthy candidates from entering this profession.
Setting standardized training and evaluation criteria for new pilots seems reasonable. I think our view would be that if a pilot doesn't make the grade at Airline A, it certainly would be logical to assume that at Airline B they wouldn't put him at the controls of an aircraft either, no matter how desperate they might be to fill a position.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 But, as we've seen, it can happen. Sharing the pilot records might protect against some of this but, again, the program will only be as strong as the data collected and the standards upon which that data is based.
But we do, in fact, support the NTSB's recommendations insofar as the information collected and shared provides objective, accurate, and comprehensive picture of this pilot, and that's where our concerns actually arise.
Many of the evaluations included in these records will be subjective, by their very nature, especially when it comes to judging such things as assessing a pilot's judgment and decisionmaking skills.
We would hope that the recordkeeping, if this is the path we go forward on, would be as objective and accurate as humanly possible. We would further hope that the information gathered would never be used in a punitive manner, and that legislative protections would be added so that the data could not be misused by persons outside the industry who could either misinterpret it or even sensationalize it for their own purposes.
The standardization that we're recommending for the new hire pilots should extend to experienced pilots as well. The intent today of recurrent training and periodic check rides is clearly to keep a pilot sharp, but the fact remains that these evaluation tools also vary from airline to airline, and they should be standardized, in our opinion.
We would strongly urge that the industry begin to implement the recommendations that I mentioned that are found within this report, to move forward to study the future supply of airline pilots and maintenance personnel, and perhaps apply the criteria that are set forth in that report.
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That's the reason I've asked that this panel's report be included in the record.
Among the panel's recommendations were several based on tougher hiring and training practices, including the formulation of performance-based standards for entry level pilots. We've proposed a three-point program that we believe reflects the direction taken by this DOT Blue Ribbon Panel that will help assure the high quality of airline pilots, both now and in the future.
We want that quality to be ''built in'' through tougher pre-employment screening and solid, standardized training and monitoring programs, rather than ''inspected in'' through tracking records and analyzing data after the fact.
It's easy to track records after the fact, but the fact is that, in aviation, unfortunately, that's often too late.
In conclusion, I appreciate the opportunity to have set forward our views here before this Subcommittee. I would look forward to answering any questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Captain Babbitt.
Next we'll hear from Mr. Coleman.
Mr. COLEMAN. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I'm Walter S. Coleman, president of the Regional Airline Association. We appreciate the opportunity to appear to testify today on the sharing of pilot training records with prospective airline employers.
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The Regional Airline Association supports the intent of the recommendation of the NTSB, which seeks to improve the availability of pilot training and performance information for prospective airline employers. We agree with the NTSB that we must learn from the tragedy of an aircraft accident and identify appropriate action to achieve our mutual safety objectives.
We support the intent of the NTSB recommendations provided they do not diminish the quality and the utility of training programs or training records which are maintained by employing airlines.
Few employment positions in the private sector, with the exception of those which are security sensitive, have more rigorous requirements for checking and confirming background information than pilots applying for a flying position with an airline. It is important that we be aware of these requirements to gain an appreciation for how thoroughly pilot backgrounds are examined.
These include: prospective airline employers contact the FAA Airman Registration Branch to confirm that the information provided by the pilot regarding the class of pilot license held, specific aircraft ratings which the pilot has qualified for, and the disposition, if any, of FAA actions on the pilot are in agreement with the statements provided by the applying pilot.
A positive confirmation of this information will confirm some of the most critical items to a prospective airline employer. These are: that the pilot had earned and continues to hold a pilot license, as stated in their application to the company; is rated in aircraft types listed; and there are no disciplinary actions.
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I know of none of our member airlines who do not use the Airman Registration Branch confirmation method. They must use it because they invest quite a bit into the screening of the pilot, they're going to invest a lot into the training of that pilot. They certainly don't want to be surprised that he doesn't or she doesn't hold the licenses they expected.
The prospective airline employer must also inquire of the national driver registry to determine if any record exists on convictions of driving under the influence.
Currently, prospective employers must also verify employment for the previous 5 years for security reasons, and that will go up to 10 years on January 31, 1996. They'll have to provide that information.
In a survey of our member airlines, we found that, among those responding, all review pilot log books to confirm the statements of the pilots of their flying experience. Pilots' log books have the record of each flight the pilot had performed. This is an important review to determine both the breadth and the currencythat is, how recently they've flownof a pilot's experience.
Many airlines also use simulators, flight simulators, during the pilot's screening process as a means of confirming flight skills. The pilots are not asked to perform demanding maneuvers, as they may not be familiar with the aircraft type that the simulator represents, but it does provide a means to determine if the pilot has the instrument flying and aircraft handling skills commensurate with their flight experience.
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In the event a pilot candidate was recently or is currently employed in a flight position, the prospective airline often requests from the current or recent employer information related to the pilot's training and checking. Employers will provide the information they believe is appropriate, which will always include dates of employment and the position held.
The amount of specific training and checking information provided will be consistent with what the employing or formerly employing airline believes is appropriate, which is basically the subject of this hearing.
This information may include the dates of completion of initial qualification and any subsequent transition and upgrade qualifications, if achieved.
Among the NTSB recommendations on the issue of sharing pilot information or pilot performance records is to require FAA to maintain a storage and retrieval system that contains pertinent standardized training and performance information.
As we heard from Administrator Hinson, we're talking about a very large population of airmen50,000-plus among the large air carriers, and 15,000 to 20,000 among the regionals and business corporate flying. It's a very large population that we would presumably target to keep a record of. This could be a formidable data collection and retrieval task.
A troublesome thing that the NTSB has recommended that Administrator Hinson also commented on was a submission retrieval system that would be standardized, and I think we should exercise considerable caution in standardizing that to ensure we do not blunt innovation in training programs. Training programs have objectives, but to permit innovation they have permitted carriers to find different ways to achieve that. If we were to standardize the program, we'd have to be careful that we don't limit that capability.
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It's also important that a requirement for the provision of pilot training records does not produce an unwanted result of reducing the content of the training record to only indicate pass or failure of a training event. Descriptive language is often included with the report of a training event. If a requirement existed that all training records be provided to prospective airline employers, the content of each training event may be the subject of discussions between the air crew and the instructor.
The least desirable result would be to only include a pass or fail and not include amplifying language. This would reduce the utility of the training record and limit its use to identify trends within the air carrier.
There are references to that, both in a comment about scrubbing the records to only indicate pass/fail, and subjective information that's in the training records by the previous panel.
Finally, the Regional Airline Association welcomes the opportunity to join with FAA, NTSB, and the Congress to examine the NTSB pilot training record recommendations to determine what actions would achieve safety improvements, and perhaps, as Administrator Hinson said, use of the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, ARAC, would be a proper vehicle.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Coleman.
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Mr. MERLIS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I'm Edward Merlis, senior vice president, Government Affairs, of the Air Transport Association. I appreciate this opportunity to provide our views on the issue of sharing pilot performance records.
ATA represents the major commercial passenger and cargo air carriers in the United States. Collectively, our members account for over 95 percent of all revenue passenger and cargo ton miles that scheduled air carriers operate in this country.
The purpose of today's hearingto discuss the maintaining and sharing of employer personnel records for the purpose of evaluating applicants for pilot positions during the hiring and selection processis drawn from the recommendations issued by NTSB following its investigation into the December 13, 1994 accident near Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
ATA endorses the concept of providing limited access to employer personnel records as part of the pre-employment process. As with any issue involving liability, privacy, and individual rights, however, the method or process by which this information is obtained and shared and the legal protection for sharing it are of considerable interest to our members.
My written statement enumerates the great lengths to which our carriers go to hire the most qualified pilots, but I will, in the interest of time, not go over that.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Let me state very clearly, however, and precisely, that carrier willingness to provide prospective employers with information to be used in the decisionmaking process is contingent upon a very solid grant of immunity from employee lawsuits. While truth may be a defense to a defamation action, absent immunity carriers will still have to defend themselves in private actions brought as a result of complying with a federally determined public safety benefit, and proving the truth is difficult when dealing with the subjective elements of an employee evaluation for a position as critical and complex as that of a pilot.
Let me give you a hypothetical but realistic example.
First Officer Smith of Alpha Aviation applies for a pilot position at Bravo Airways. This occurs after an Alpha Aviation instructor concludes that, even though Mr. Smith is technically competent to fly a commercial aircraft, he lacks the leadership, crew coordination, and communication skills that Alpha Aviation has determined are critical to responding to its needs in emergency situations.
In the instructor's opinion, he does not consistently meet the company's stringent standards for line pilot, even though he satisfies all FAA requirements. In short, Mr. Smith's conduct, in the view of Alpha Aviation, is not always professional.
Will Alpha Aviation provide this frank, subjective evaluation when asked for references? In today's world, the answer is probably not. Alpha Aviation will not risk becoming the target of a lawsuit alleging libel and slander, negligent and intentional interference with a contract and other creative common law and statutory causes of action. Alpha will be guided by decisions such as Polson vs. Davis which allowed a terminated employee to sue her former employer for libel and slander based on a supervisor's determination of unprofessional conduct.
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Alpha will merely confirm factual information regarding Mr. Smith's employment.
And even if it were a by-the-numbers, by-the-book formula for evaluation that were established, the verdict in O'Brien vs. Papa Gino's of America gives us pause. In that case a jury awarded damages to a plaintiff fired for cocaine use, which the jury found to be true, but evidently the jury felt that another contributing factor to the termination was a supervisor's personal grudge.
Mr. Chairman, aviation safety is too important for supervisors to hedge their personal evaluations or resort to oral evaluations for fear of litigation.
We do not request this immunity lightly. Our requirement is drawn from an ever-increasing litigious environment in which we operate. In recent years, the conditional common-law privilege to make statements about former employees has been whittled away to the point that most employers, including airlines, rarely give or receive meaningful references on applicants.
If the Congress determines that the public interest is best served through disclosure of employer records, then there must be conferred upon the provider of such records absolute immunity, as is granted to employers for records provided to the State in unemployment compensation proceedings.
My written statement covers in detail a number of the aspects of pilot hiring, which Mr. Coleman has far more eloquently discussed. Let me say, however, that there is considerable merit in the concept of making appropriate records available for review by prospective employers. Developing that concept into a workable practice will require that thorny privacy, defamation, negligence, and contract interference issues be thoroughly explored and resolved in such a manner as to protect both individual employees, employers, and the traveling and shipping public.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Merlis. I have several questions, but I'm going to go last. I'm going to go at this time to Mr. Costello.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. Babbitt, I believe that the Air Line Pilots in the past have argued that the problem is just not the performance records, but the training of pilots and the need for higher academic standards for potential pilots. I wonder if you might comment on that and suggest what those standards might be for potential pilots, and then I'll ask the other two gentleman to comment, as well.
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir, Mr. Costello. We have in the past taken the position and would hold it today, that academic standards should be included. We think that the overall quality of training in the future would be enhanced if there were an adopted curriculum of aviation-oriented subjects to prepare future airmen so that they can absorb the kinds of high-quality training we're suggesting.
If the applicant doesn't meet some minimum criteriait's rather ironic that in many other professions you require 6, 8, or 10 years concerning yourself about the life of one person, and yet we don't seem to put too much concern or thought into the background and training and education of someone to whom we may well entrust hundreds of people, and therefore that is the basis for our position.
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Mr. COSTELLO. What standards would you suggest?
Mr. BABBITT. I think a college curriculum that was aimed toward aviation, certainly having a working knowledge of weather, all the basics of aviation, whether it be engineering, the simple formulas, mathematics background, navigationthose are the types of things that any good aviation school teachesand there are a number. There is a group that accredits aviation universities. They have a very good criteria. We support that concept, and we also participate in the accreditation of such institutions. Perhaps if that was standardized as a minimum criteria, that would be certainly acceptable to us.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Merlis, would you care to comment? Do you feel that the current standards are adequate, or there should be higher academic standards?
Mr. MERLIS. I think the current standards are adequate, as well as the rigorous training process through which pilots go.
I think that if we were to identify and enumerate some criteria such as those suggested, we would limit greatly the pool of people who could enter into this profession, and I think that would be unfortunate to do so.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Coleman.
Mr. COLEMAN. I agree, too, that the current requirements are more than adequate. They've produced some splendid aviators through the years. The military didn't use a criteria for a technical background to qualify for pilot training. They may have hadwere a success with someone who came from a technical background. If given the choice, I think airlines would all like to hire aerodynamic engineers, but they aren't available, but they find that with efficient and effective training programs, they can achieve their objective and get very competent airline pilots with the current criteria.
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Mr. COSTELLO. Do any one of you gentleman know how many lawsuits are brought on an annual basis as a result of information that has been shared by one airline with another airline by employees, pilots of the various airlines?
Mr. BABBITT. From my perspective, I couldn't answer the question. I have no knowledge.
Mr. COSTELLO. Is it a widespread practice? Are there many lawsuits?
Mr. BABBITT. I would have to suggest that it probably isn't as widespread as you would suspect because the pilot population is not moving around that much anyway. The people in the industry are not constantly moving. They develop seniority with tenure, and therefore don't tend to move around as much.
Again, the focus of our concernsand I hope no one misses the pointis not with tracking the records or litigation. We're more concerned about keeping people who we need to track out of system, period.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Merlis.
Mr. MERLIS. We don't have numbers on that. I would think that in recent years the number probably isn't much, because of the nature of this industry in which pilots are not transient from one employer to another, particularly because of seniority.
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But, second, with the explosion in litigation that has happened in other areas of personnel, we may be in a situation or environment where the number of cases diminishes because people just provide less information in order to protect themselves from the potential litigation.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Coleman?
Mr. COLEMAN. I've not heard of any. It has not been an active issue that has come to my attention.
Mr. COSTELLO. I see the red light is on and I'm out of time, but I wonder if I might ask all three of you gentleman to submit for the record information concerning lawsuits that have been filed on an annual basis in the past 5 years by pilots and employees based on information that has been shared between airlines.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Costello. Mr. LaHood?
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Babbitt, I assume that you are an active pilot, correct?
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. LAHOOD. With which airlines?
Mr. BABBITT. You don't have to be with an airline to be an active pilot. My airline has gone out of business, but I do continue to fly and I maintain proficiency.
Mr. LAHOOD. Which airlines did you work for prior to being a sole entrepreneur, or whatever the correct term is?
Mr. BABBITT. I worked 24 years with Eastern Airlines.
Mr. LAHOOD. In those 24 years, did you believe that the people that you worked with, primarily pilots, were well-trained and qualified people to do their job?
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. I had the advantage of working for a carrier that had very high training standards and an excellent criteria of training, but I'm also aware, in my present capacity, that not every airline maintains those standards or simply trains to the minimum FAA standards. I think a lot of the pilots today enjoy working for the quality carriers that not only meet the FAA minimum standards, but, in fact, are very innovative and train well beyond FAA minimum standards to bring to them the quality of pilot skills that they are looking for.
Mr. LAHOOD. While you were a pilot for Eastern Airlines, what would you say wasthe people that you worked with or were associated with or had knowledge of, what was their educational background? Did they have high school diplomas? Were they college educated? Did they do post-graduate work?
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Mr. BABBITT. I would, not having a detailed knowledge of all of them
Mr. LAHOOD. Of course not. Right.
Mr. BABBITT. But I would suspect that at most of the major carriers, including the one I worked for, that a minimum of 2 years of college was involved and some technical background somewhere, an aviation school, whether it was a commercial course or a course provided by the airline specifically focused on training for a typeratingfor example, a flight engineer's rating. But I think a minimum of 2 years.
We also had a very high population, probably in excess of 60 or 70 percent of pilots, trained by the military, which, again, has a very strict standard, and I would disagree with the remark made earlier. The armed forces do have a minimum criteria for their pilots. Two years of college is required.
Mr. LAHOOD. Did the vast majority have college educations or did not?
Mr. BABBITT. I'd say the vast majority did have some college education. Yes.
Mr. LAHOOD. Do you place a higher priority on the fact that somebody was trained as a pilot through the military or some other means, or a higher priority on the fact that they have a college degree or some sort of college training? If you had to place a priority, where would the priority be?
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Mr. BABBITT. Well, I think what we're pointing to when we suggest some minimum academic standards is that we have someone who has an understanding of how to study, someone who has been in an environment so they can absorb future training.
Now, if you can find a way to do that alternatively to a college education, that's fine. But as long as some type of education or training is requiredand I'm not necessarily suggesting that it has to be collegeshould we set academic standards of some type of training as a floor so that the pilot has the background to absorb the types of training that we're looking for.
The modern pilot today trains in a very different whyit's an evolving technology. Line-oriented flight training, LOFT, as they call it, sets up a series of scenarios. They're very subjective. There is often not necessarily a right answer. We want the people to have a base of knowledge to be able to deal in that environment, to have leadership skills taught to them.
Just because you have 1,000 hours in an airplane doesn't necessarily mean that you've developed any leadership skills, especially if that was solo flying. You have a crew to work with nowadays, a big crew in some cases.
Mr. LAHOOD. Do you place a distinction between major airlines and commuter airlines? I know that in the community I live in, I'mI live in Peoria, Illinois. In order for people in Peoria to get to a hub, they have to fly to St. Louis or to Chicago.
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I've heard people in my District make the comment that some of the pilots that fly the commuter airlinesUnited Express or American Eagle or some of these other onesthe pilots appear to be younger. Some of them look like maybe they just got their driver's license, if you will.
Is there a distinction between the experience of those pilots and the pilots of say United Airlines, American Airlines, some TWA?
Mr. BABBITT. No. The hiring criteria are established by the carriers themselves. They tend to have more growth right now in the regional carriers, but I would say they have a very high quality and standard of pilots in the regional industry right now. They've just enjoyed a lot more growth.
We have pilots furloughed at some of the larger carriers where, in factand I think Mr. Coleman will confirmthe growth rate of the regional carriers has been requiring them to hire and, of course, you hire the newest pilots.
But, again, we have an old saying that brains and seniority are not synonymous. You can have a very bright pilot at 21 years old. That was my age when I got hired with Eastern Airlines. There was a big demand for pilots at the time. I just was fortunate to be trained and ready to go to work for a carrier and had the right pilot and flight qualifications at that point in time.
Mr. LAHOOD. May I ask one more? If one of the people here from the public who is not representing an association, but the folks that are here who are concerned about airline safety were to ask you the question: should the flying public, should we be concerned about stepping on an airplane because pilots are not well-trained or are not the best-qualified or are not the most experienced? What would your answer be to them?
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Mr. BABBITT. My answer would be that no, they needn't be concerned. We have a very high level and high quality of safety training and standards in the country. What I'm suggesting is that we have a focus here for an incredibly small incident in the overall problem of pilot training in the future, and I'm just concerned that we would devote our attention to tracking of pilot training records and ignore what I think would be a much broader concern.
I'm not suggesting that we don't need to do that. If that helps the problem, I'm all for it. But I'm suggesting that you shouldn't accept that as the cure for the future that we're going to have all of our problems cleared up if we simply track the training records.
I'm suggesting that you not only should track the training records, but you should also push forward some of the suggestions that have been made over the years to enhance the quality of future pilots so that we can continue to maintain the level of quality and professionalism that we enjoy today in the industry.
Mr. LAHOOD. Is it safe to assume that you, if you had your way and you could dictate, that you would have pilots with some sort of a college equivalency or a college degree in order to qualify to be a pilot of an airline?
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. If I had my way, I would insist that there would be, concurrent with their flight training, a ground-based training to prepare them for the type of environment that we're going into in the future.
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As this report sets forth, we're into a whole new environment. We're now into a very digitalized world. The modern cockpit is a different place than it was 20 years ago. We now operate much more in a team concept. That's why crew resource management skills are taught.
So I'm suggesting that, concurrent with their flight training, that they get an equivalent amount of accredited type of underlying training to set up their future so that they can continue to evolve in the industry.
Mr. LAHOOD. And I assume that, from the points the other two gentleman make, you don't quite concur with Mr. Babbitt? Is that correct?
Mr. COLEMAN. I think that's correct. I think that we have found that pilots who have come through other pipelines, where they come through general aviation or had a little bit of college but not a disciplined program that was completely focused on aviationwhat we're looking at with a pilot is judgment and handling skills, mechanical handling skills of the airplane, and you can learn those skills certainly in other formal training environments and not necessarily with one that's completely tailored to aviation.
But certainly for the pilot to get his or her commercial license, move up to an air transport pilot rating, they're going to have to get specific training in the technical subjects associated with flying an airplane, including whether and how an airplane flies and understanding an appreciation for the airplane. I don't know and I don't believe you could produce evidence that would suggest that if you don't start with that technical background in college you couldn't achieve any level of airman skill subsequently.
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Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. LaHood. Mr. Menendez?
Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As I listened to your respective testimonies, I'm sitting here and saying something is disconnected, and I say that, at least from my perception of having listened to the testimony. I've, in addition to what you said orally, taken the time to read what you submitted to the committee.
As I read your testimony, Mr. Merlis, basically I get the sense that the industry feels everything is OK, except that if you're going to do this record thing we need blanket immunity because of all the legal issues you've raised.
And then I listen to the very people who have to fly, who obtain the privilege and therefore the responsibility for everybody who they carry on their plane with them as the captain of that flight, and I hear them say, ''Well, this is much wider than the question simply of providing information from company to company on the performance of a pilot. There are much more significant things to do.'' So I am concerned when I hear the industry basically sayingplease correct me if I've categorized your statement wrong, but, as I read it, both what I heard you say and as I read it, you've gone at great length to describe the hiring process for most of the industry in terms of the flight simulators and the initial pilot training and all of these things. I hear you say, ''It's OK. We don't really have a problem.'' And then we have the Transportation Board saying, ''Well, we have some problems.''
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. MERLIS. It's an evolutionary process. This hearing was ostensibly for the purpose of talking about a pilot record issue, which is what I did.
Let me give you an example of this evolutionary process.
Just last week at the follow-up to the Aviation Summit, a meeting that was held in New Orleans, agreement was reached by the entire aviation community, to develop flight operations/quality assurance programs with the FAA whereby you can take information that comes from the actual in-flight experience and use that information for improving the maintenance, improving the techniques that are used, and improving the training.
So there are things that are constantly being done to improve the system. The fact of the matter is that those are being addressed and will continue to be addressed, as Administrator Hinson said, in an ARAC process, through the FAA's ongoing activities, and through the carriers' and pilots' ongoing activities to try to make things even better when we're dealing with a system that works very, very well today.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. Babbitt, did I hear you wrong? Are you not telling us that you're not speaking just for yourself here. You're speaking for your association.
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. That's correct.
Mr. MENENDEZ. And do I now hear you saying that, well, our concerns are much broader than this?
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. I indicated to the chairman when this hearing was first called that I appreciate his attention to this issue and I know it is of personal concern to a number of you on the subcommittee. My focus here is to broaden the view. Yes, training records do, in fact, play a role, but we have laid out the criteria that we are concerned aboutobviously, privacy issues, equal opportunity, the liability of the carriers. I appreciate all that.
Our focus is the issue of standardized educational training criteria, but I guess the difficulty I'm having is we have visited some of these issues before. We visited them in the past. This goes all the way back to Senator McCain's hearing in 1989. I think there was some initial legislation that brought about this DOT report, and now I'm seeing a shift.
The contents of this report do suggest that we should have academic standards provided for. It's in this report. I'd suggest everyone look at theexecutive summary of this report. Look at some of the issues.
Ironically, I'm hearing some change of positions. The industry in total, including the ATA, including the RAA and Air Line Pilots Association, signed off on this report, and it contains the very things that I'm suggesting. That's the frustrating part .
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. Merlis, what's your response to that? Is it true that the industry has signed on to that report?
Mr. MERLIS. I'm not familiar enough with that specific report to address that.
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Mr. MENENDEZ. Let me ask youlet me go through just four of the points that the Pilots Association has talked about. We've brought it up here with Mr. Hinson and the chairman of the Safety Board about initial pilot training and qualifications process, to develop an evaluation and develop minimum standards that the FAA should have for qualifying an airman for ratings, looking at the hiring procedures of airlines in the context of the screening and hiring process, and an evaluation of minimum standards used by the airlines in pilot selection, and looking at a review of the methods used to measure basic airmanship, judgment, and professionalization of the applicant, looking at the airline initial and recurrent training programs, looking at review data from airman line checks, looking at flight operational quality assurance.
Is the industry saying to the committee that none of those things really needs to be done, that we are safe, as it is, and therefore we don't have to go any further?
Mr. MERLIS. Congressman, we exceed in virtually every instance the FAA's minimum standard requirements. The fact is that
Mr. MENENDEZ. That is the point. That is the very point. The point is: it's not the minimum standard. We are concerned. Some of us are concerned that their minimum standards are too minimum.
Mr. MERLIS. Then raise them. The carriers
Mr. MENENDEZ. OK. And what I want to hear from the industry, because I don't want to miscategorize what I think I'm hearing from you, which is ''We're fine.'' You just said, ''Then raise them.'' If we were to raise them, what would be the industry response to that?
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Mr. MERLIS. In many instances we already perform at levels above those minimum standards, and if they were raised, they probably would not change industry practices because we already exceed those requirements.
The FAA has established a floor. We, in general, exceed that floor. We would be concerned if the standardization process resulted in the establishment of a ceiling above which we could not go because of the requirement for standardization.
So our practice in the industry is to exceed the minimum requirements, by and large. If for non121 carriers, carriers which are not members of ATA, the decision is that the standards which the FAA has in place are inadequate, then they should be raised. They probably will not affect the standards which our carriers have employed because
Mr. MENENDEZ. My time is way out and the chairman has been gracious with his leniency here. If we were to raise the standards to the minimums that you suggest are the industry-wide standards, industry wouldn't be affected. We would have everybody living within it. And it would not be a ceiling but, in fact, a floor.
Mr. MERLIS. That is correct.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. COLEMAN. I would like to respond, if I could, just briefly.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 With all due respect, I'd like to point out if we raise the standards in the regulations, then we have a new minimum standard and you could come back and say, ''You guys are just doing the minimum standard.'' So whatever we do to the standard, it's always going to be the minimum standard, so we will have to make a determination as to whether we really need to raise the standard. To what objective? Not raising it for raising its sake, because when we raise it, it becomes the new minimum standard and we can once again be accused of only meeting the minimum standard.
We need to have an objective to get there.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. Chairman, I'm just compelled to say that what you're saying is, ''Don't raise it so I can say I'm way above the minimum standard.'' I can't fathom that.
Mr. COLEMAN. We should raise it
Mr. MENENDEZ. The bottom line is, if I raise it to the minimum standard that you believe is the industry-wide standard, I can compliment you for having been the catalyst to raise the standard.
Mr. MERLIS. And if there is a
Mr. MENENDEZ. But I find it incredible to believe that you're concerned that what we're going to tell you is that, in fact, you're only operating at the minimum standard.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Menendez. Mr. Costello?
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I only have one last question. It's a simple question that only requires a simple answer, and that is: the purpose of this hearing today is to determine if airlines should be required to share pilot performance records, and I'd like to know if you favor the current system or if you think that legislation should be passed to require airlines to share pilot performance records.
I would start with you, Mr. Coleman.
Mr. COLEMAN. The position we've taken is that we would support the intent to provide records, only if it will not diminish the utility of those records or their content, but we see merit in a prospective airline employer having as much information as possible about a candidate airman.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Merlis?
Mr. MERLIS. I agree, sir. We would like to have access to that information because it may help in the process.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Babbitt?
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. Swallowing our concerns about the mischief that could surround the transfer of those records and the privacy concerns, given the proper legislative protection, immunity for both sides of the question, the carrier and the pilot, yes, sir, we're comfortable.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Costello.
Mr. Coleman, I want to go back into a point that Mr. LaHood raised to some extent, mostly with Mr. Babbitt, and you responded later or said later, maybe in response to another question, about the competence of the regional airline pilots.
I have before me the ''USA Today'' articles that have been mentioned here before, and of six crashes that they list since 1988, all occurred on smaller or regional or commuter-type airlines.
What I'm wondering about, sir, is: some people domaybe many peoplehave the impression thatMr. LaHood mentioned they see very young pilots on some of these airlines.
Is the average age of the regional airline pilots much lower than the major airline pilots? And is the experience level much lower?
That leads into the question: are, as some people sayand I've not been one who has said this, but some have said this is more a regional airlines problem than it is a major airlines problem.
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How would you respond?
Mr. COLEMAN. The average age is younger, although it is changing a bit because some people are joining the regionals who have had previous careers in the military, and so it has come up a bit, but the average age is younger because it has been a very growing, dynamic part of the industry, and, as Mr. Babbitt said, the major air carriers have actually been furloughing in some areas. Some are hiring now, but it's relatively a flat population, and therefore their average age is going up.
If we look at some of the statistics as to the number of hours that the airmen have when they're hired by the regionals or the major carriers, depending on whose numbers you read, but the average number is, for the regional list the pilots have between 2,500 and 3,000 hours, and for the majors they have maybe 3,500 hours. Many of them are ex-military, although that's a diminishing pool, also.
There aren't manythose are not startling differences between those two, but there are some greater experiences because of the military is a much more attractiverather, the majors are a much more attractive option to the ex-military pilot because of potential income and the airplanes they can fly.
I must say this about the Regional Pilots: because of the characteristic of where they fly and the equipment they fly, most of our member airlines have only one or two types of airplanes, so they stay with an airplane for quite a long time, as long as they are with the carrier, perhaps.
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They also fly in and out of some of the same airports every day, which is a bit of a grind, but it certainly makes them extremely familiar with the aircraft, the aircraft operation, the navigation, the type of approach they expect, the weather, local weather phenomena, so they are very comfortable in the environment they fly.
So, while they may appear younger and they may have a few hours or few hundred hours fewer than the major pilot, in the area they are operating they are extremely competent.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you. I should have said that in those six crashes listed, those are crashes in which the competence of the pilot was specifically questioned or pilot error was alleged.
Mr. Merlis, in your testimony you say that the airline industry ''endorses the concept of providing limited access to employer personnel records.'' In what way would the airlines want this access to be limited?
Mr. MERLIS. Well, we have not really explored in great detail issues which might be in a personnel record which were not related to flight.
For example, there is a complaint about sexual harassment in the personnel record. Is that going to be made available?
We have not internally decided whether or not that's something that should or should not be made available. Even if it is adjudicated or resolved favorably, it certainly does put a black mark on the individual who is applying for a job, and I think we have to be very careful when we're opening up this kind of area for inquiry and scrutiny that, as I said earlier, we make sure we protect the employee, as well as the employer.
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So by ''limited,'' I think we've got to go through a process to determine what are the characteristics of records that should be made available and what are the characteristics of records that should not be made available by any legislative action taken.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. Babbitt, the airlines want a blanket grant of immunity from lawsuits from employee lawsuits concerning the sharing of records. What do you feel or what does your organization feel about this blanket grant of immunity?
Mr. BABBITT. We would look at that as half of a sentence, if you would. The grant of immunity we would see would have to happen parallel with some assurances that we would need to have.
For example, as I've indicated in earlier testimony, we're concerned about the subjective nature of pilot training records. A pilot is a product of his or her training. Put an excellent pilot through a poor training program, and what you get is a very good but poorly trained pilot, and, held up against some objective criteria, he's going to have a difficult time.
So what is the standard baseline for the training program? The subjectivity of the person giving the check ride? Today we use profiles that a lot of the carriers call ''line oriented'' flight training where scenarios are put forward. And there may not be a right answer.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 A case in point: You're in the simulator. You're on final approach, and the airport in front of you suddenly closes. You have to make a decision as to where you're going to go.
The pilot was lined up at Dulles. He decides to go to Baltimore. The check pilot says, ''Well, why didn't you go to Philadelphia? It had longer runways.'' Well, the wind was better at Baltimore. There could be any number of reasons why he or she made the decision. It's a subjective decision.
Go a step further. Suppose the pilot fails the check ride. Who is going to do the appeal? Where does the pilot turn and say, ''I was doing a fine job. They busted me here punitively. I happen to be an ALPA activist, or something. I've been trying to get a union on this property for 10 years, and now I busted my check ride and I know it was punitive.'' Who do they appeal to? Where's the neutral court of appeals in that case? We have answers for those, but what I'm getting at is: granting the immunity would have to go, in our eyes, parallel with our protections, as well, and then we're quite comfortable allowing those records to be portable.
Mr. DUNCAN. How is that handled now, the appeal process, if something like that happens?
Mr. BABBITT. Generally, if the carriers have collective bargaining agreements, there is usually a provision where the pilot is allowed to take another check ride, and this time with a neutral observer. It can be someone from the Federal Aviation Administration. In some cases it can be another check pilot and one from ALPA's training committee jointly observing the check ride, but they are afforded an opportunity for a retest with a neutral observer, in most cases.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Let me get into another thing that has been mentioned two or three times here today. I guess in some ways it is sort of a peripheral issue, but I did ask thein the first question I asked I mentioned that you would testify later, because we had advanced copies of your testimony, that the question or the issue of the sharing of pilot records was really a subset issue to the larger issue of pilot training, experience, and academic standards.
You mentioned a saying in your industry, something to the effect that seniority didn't necessarily equal brains, or something like that. I can tell you that when I was in law schooland I know, from talking to some law students today, the saying is still aroundthat the A students make the professors, the B students make the judges, and the C students make the money.
Mr. DUNCAN. And there is a lot of truth to that.
What I'm getting at is this: I have known many, many people in my lifetime who are some of the most successful, competent, intelligent people I know, but they don't have college degrees. I can see that there would be manyprobably more than we might thinkmany young people out there who might be technically oriented, really good with computers, real interested in becoming pilots, and who could make outstanding pilots, but they might not like English and they might not like biology and they might not be good college students.
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If we come up with some sort of academic standards, I guess I have to tell you I have a bias that we try to come up with some way toI would hate to see a requirement. As Mr. Traficant said, a 4-year degree in Shakespeare wouldn't necessarily make somebody a better pilot.
Mr. BABBITT. Have great PA announcements.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. LaHood?
Mr. LAHOOD. I would just make the observation that when I board in the early morning in Peoria, say at 6:30, a United Express or American Eagle and I see a pilot that looks like he just got his driver's license because of his age, he looks young, and then go to O'Hare and see somebody with gray hair in the cockpit, I feel a lot more comfortable. And I know other people that have made that observation.
I wonder, Mr. Babbitt, what you meant by the term ''mischief.'' ''As long as they don't cause mischief with the information, you have no problem with sharing it.'' I wonder what you meant by that?
Mr. BABBITT. Yes, sir. The mischief that I would be concerned with would be the punitive type of information included in a record that wasn't based on any objective fact.
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Does the pilot have the opportunity to see this record that you've produced on him. A pilot takes a check ride. Most of the carriers today, by agreement between the Air Line Pilots Association and the carrier, have an agreement wherein they share the records at the end of the check ride, but that's not a requirement. It is certainly not required under the law.
So the pilot gets the indication that he or she has passed the check ride, only to find out 2 years later that the check pilot has written a number of disparaging comments on him that this was a minimum passage and so on.
Did the pilot get the opportunity to see those remarks and object to them? I would certainly think that would be a criteria that we would have, that the answer must be yes.
Just to go back to your issue, you've said that when young pilots, you see people automatically equate youth with inexperience, experience with age. You would be no happier, I would imagine, if you had to have an emergency appendectomy and you looked up and the doctor didn't look like he shaved yet. That would concern you. If it was a young woman right out of medical school, that would bother you. You'd be much more comfortable with an older and senior pilot.
But that goes to a second part of our concerns, and that is that even when we hire the best and the brightest and they get into the system, are we providing an ongoing educational environment for them?
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 1 Of 2 I would respectfully disagree that by imposing some standard we would stifle innovation. That's not the case today.
The majority of the carriersit has been stated here very eloquentlytrain well above the minimum standards. That's great, and if we had a standard, I assume they would continue to surpass it and be innovative.
We train for maneuvers today very differently than we did 25 years ago. The entire concept of the procedure has changed.
Encounters with wind sheer today are handled totally differently, absolutely 180 degrees different in the recovery techniques that are taught today than they were 20 years ago because we know more about them. People were innovative. People went out and used computer technology to simulate the wind sheer environment, and someone finally said, ''Let's try it another way.'' Lo and behold, the recoveries are better.
So it is an ongoing training environment, and I would suggest that we cannot only look at the entry level, but the ongoing senior pilot training, as well, for an overall raising of the standard of the quality of pilots.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. LaHood.
Mr. Coleman, let me ask you this: I know that in some highly regulated industries we've made it very difficult for small businesses to survive because the smaller businesses have a much more difficult time coming up with the money and the staff and so forth to comply with all of the laws and rules and regulations and red tape, and so forth, and so sometimes we drive the small out and only the big survive.
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What I'm wondering about: do you think requiring the sharing of pilot records, or do you think the complying with the NTSB recommendations would be a greater burden for the regional airlines than the major carriers?
Mr. COLEMAN. No. I don't think it would be a greater burden. It would be a lineal relationship, I suspect. They have a smaller pilot population. They'd haveit would be less frequent they'd have to deal with it.
I'd say, in the face of what they're looking at tomorrow with the new rule, that this would be pretty minor as far as a financial burden on them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Merlis, let me just ask you very briefly, you said in your testimony that if we do not exercise caution in the way in which we require record sharing, if we do, that, ''We run the risk of creating records of poor quality, not better.'' Would you elaborate on that just for a moment and what you mean by that?
Mr. MERLIS. Yes.
Mr. DUNCAN. How would it make the records worse instead of better?
Mr. MERLIS. I think it's human nature that when one is supervising someone else, that individual's a little reluctant to necessarily document in great detail things about the other individuals performance if he believes it will have a long-term impact.
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So if a check airman were to feel, for example, that the pilot who has just gone through some testing really could use some improvement, would that check airman write down that he could use recurrent training within the next 3 weeks, or would he orally convey that information for fear that if he wrote it down and that individual were to seek other employment, that might be perceivedeven though it's not valid because he passed his testit might be perceived as a black mark against that individual.
I think that that's the concern about this kind of situation, that you don't want to put things in such a way that candid appraisal is at all changed because of the human element in that one doesn't want to harm another individual's long-term chances. He's really a very fine pilot. He just happened to wake up on the wrong side of the bed today and didn't do as well in this particular procedure.
You'd want them to get the further training and not preclude any incentive on the part of the check airman to make sure that he got it.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much. Mr. Lipinski?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I shall be brief. I simply want to apologize to this panel for not being here to listen to your testimony but, unfortunately, we had a democratic ICC Conference Committee meeting going on, and we have a Conference Committee with the Senate at 2 today, so we had to get our ducks in order.
I also want to thank our deputy ranking member, Mr. Costello, who is going out the door, for more than adequately filling in for me in my absence. I have read over all the testimony. I do have some questions for you gentleman, which we will give to you and I'm sure you'll be more than happy to answer them for me.
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Have a good day, and thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski. We've had 3 hours of very fine testimony and response to questions on this, and we have a very interesting hearing scheduled for tomorrow, but, gentlemen, I want to thank you very much for being here and for helping us learn more about this, as Mr. Hinson said, what appears to be maybe a very simple issue that has some complications to it.
Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, at 12:30 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
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