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Regional Air Carriers and Pilot Workforce Issues

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On June 11, 2009, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation regarding regional air carriers, pilot workforce issues, and concerns with the Federal Aviation Adminstration’s (FAA) oversight of the aviation industry. Last month’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing after the crash of Colgan flight 3407 highlighted the need to closely examine regulations governing pilot training and rest requirements and the oversight necessary to ensure their compliance. This is a particular concern at regional carriers, which constitute an increasing proportion of U.S. operations. The Inspector General noted several issues with regional and mainline carriers that could impact safety, such as identified differences in operating environments and potential differences in pilots’ flight experience, training programs, fatigue levels, and compensation. Despite these differences, FAA maintains it has one level of safety for all types of air carrier operations. The Inspector General stated that while FAA has improved some aspects of its safety oversight, there are still weaknesses in its oversight and inconsistencies in how its rules and regulations are enforced. Given the concerns with regional carriers noted by the NTSB and the vulnerabilities previously identified with FAA’s safety oversight, the Subcommittee requested that the Office of Inspector General review aspects of pilot training and rest requirements. The Inspector General stated that his office recently started this review, which focuses on FAA oversight of commuter and regional pilot training, the number of training hours needed before a pilot can assume pilot–in–command responsibilities, and how U.S. airlines update pilots on the latest technologies on the aircraft they operate. The review will also examine the information pilots are required to provide airlines and whether it is sufficient to verify pilot employment and training.