Aviation Safety:

Better Guidance and Training Needed on Providing Files on Pilots' Background Information

GAO-02-722: Published: Aug 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2002.

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The Pilot Records Improvement Act, enacted on October 9, 1996, responded to seven fatal commercial air carrier accidents that were attributed, in part, to errors by pilots who had been hired without background checks. The act, which took effect on February 6, 1997, requires air carriers, before making final hiring decisions, to obtain information for the past 5 years on a pilot applicant's performance, qualifications, and training from the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), employers, and the National Driver Register (NDR). The act also includes provisions to protect pilots' rights. FAA oversees compliance with the act and has broad responsibility for overseeing aviation safety. According to GAO's analyses of FAA and NDR databases and carriers' responses to GAO's surveys, compliance with the act has generally increased since it went into effect, but compliance is not always complete or timely. The available data are not adequate to determine industrywide compliance. According to their responses to GAO's surveys, carriers are not always aware of the act's requirements for protecting pilots' rights. FAA has taken limited steps to oversee compliance with PRIA. Under the act and its broad responsibility for aviation safety, FAA can issue implementing regulations, develop guidance, conduct inspections to monitor carriers' compliance, and initiate enforcement actions when it finds evidence of noncompliance. FAA has not issued regulations because it regards the act as self-implementing and believes that its regulatory resources should be reserved for higher agency priorities. Although FAA provided guidance for carriers, it was slow to update the guidance after the act was amended. Although they generally found records useful in making hiring decisions, carriers were divided in their opinions on whether the records were worth the cost. However, both groups of carriers found information from other sources, such as the job interview, the carrier's flight evaluation of the pilot, and the results of the carrier's training program, more helpful.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To assist FAA in overseeing the implementation of Pilot Records Improvement Act and to enable FAA to determine whether carriers have conducted the required background checks on pilots before making final hiring decisions on pilots, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to revise the Air Carrier and Other Records Request form (FAA Form 8060-11) to conform with the law's provisions for notification, review, and correction of records by pilots.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. The forms have been revised to conform to the law's provisions for notification, review, and correction of records by pilots.

    Recommendation: To assist FAA in overseeing the implementation of the Pilot Records Improvement Act and to enable FAA to determine whether carriers have conducted the required background checks on pilots before making final hiring decisions on pilots, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to incorporate information on the Pilot Records Improvement Act's Web site that informs pilots of their rights, including the right to review and correct their records under the Pilot Records Improvement Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the FAA web site now has basic information on pilots' rights under the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996 (PRIA). The agency has created a sub-site within the FAA's main web site dedicated specifically to PRIA. A prominent link on the left hand column of the sub-site directs users to a section on pilots' rights. This section highlights key provisions of the law and provides answers to frequently asked questions in a question and answer format. This section covers such subjects as the pilots' rights to review and correct the records maintained by their current employer, as well as other rights that were provided to pilots under PRIA. The FAA web site now provides pilots with basic information about their rights under the law, including their right to review the accuracy of their records before hiring air carriers make a final hiring decision.

    Recommendation: To assist FAA in overseeing the implementation of the Pilot Records Improvement Act and to enable FAA to determine whether carriers have conducted the required background checks on pilots before making final hiring decisions on pilots, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to update FAA's advisory circular on the act to (1) clarify which records to include in Pilot Records Improvement Act files that are forwarded to hiring carriers and which records to exclude and (2) have carriers put in place a system that will allow the carriers and FAA to check compliance with all requirements, of the act, especially whether required pilot background checks have been completed for pilots hired.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. On January 28, 2004, FAA issued a revised version of its advisory circular on the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996 that clarifies which records to include in files that are forwarded to hiring carriers and provides examples of which records to exclude. The revised advisory circular also requires carriers to put into place a system that will allow the carrier and FAA to check compliance with all the act's requirements.

    Recommendation: To assist FAA in overseeing the implementation of Pilot Records Improvement Act to determine whether Carriers have conducted the required background checks on pilots before making final hiring decisions on pilots, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to incorporate information on the Pilot records Improvement Act into the handbooks, inspection guidance, and training for FAA's operations inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. In March 2006, FAA approved new guidance on the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996. This guidance was issued as FAA order 8000.88 and has been posted on FAA's Web site and is now being incorporated into FAA's inspector handbooks and training classes for FAA operations inspectors. This guidance underwent extensive review by the DOT OGC and was recently approved by the DOT OGC.

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