Establishing records database a priority for crash families
Erie County executive at the time of the Flight 3407 crash.
Collins called the release of the database “a reflection of the significant progress that has been made to make sure all pilots are well-trained and fit to fly so that we can keep preventing senseless tragedies.”
Kevin Kuwik, a leading member of the Families of Continental Flight 3407, agreed that the FA A’s move would enhance aviation safety.
“This is a really big step,” said Kuwik, who discussed the new database in a conference call with FAA officials Thursday. “This will be the first time that airlines are able to electronically access a good chunk of a pilot’s records in the hiring process.”
If such a database had been in place a decade ago, it’s quite possible that Colgan Air – the now-defunct regional airline that operated Flight 3407 – never would have hired Capt. Marvin Renslow, the pilot whose errors resulted in the plane crashing into a home in Clarence.
Renslow failed three federal “check rides” before Colgan hired him, but only told the airline about one of his failures on his job application.
“Had we known what we know now, he would not have been in that seat,” Philip H. Trenary, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Airlines, owner of Colgan Air, said at an August 2009 Senate hearing on the crash.
Fifty people died in that February 2009 crash, which happened in large part because of Renslow’s incorrect reaction to a stall warning. National Transportation Safety Board investigators found that Renslow did the opposite of what he should have done to correct the plane’s attitude, thereby losing control of the aircraft.
Establishing such a pilot record database was one of the Flight 3407 families’ priorities in the aviation safety law they pushed to passage in 2010, but it’s the last major piece of the law to start to take shape.
That’s because all the other major pieces of the bill – calling for stronger rules on pilot rest, training and experience – gave the FAA deadlines for implementing new regulations.
The pilot records database didn’t come with such a deadline, and despite the test version released Thursday, it’s still not complete. The FAA is still in the midst of a rulemaking process that’s intended to eventually include airline and state driving records in the database.
“We’re probably looking at getting that implemented sometime in 2019 if everything were to go the right way,” Kuwik said.
Lawmakers who pushed for passage of the Flight 3407 aviation safety legislation unanimously agreed, though, that the FAA’s first step will go a long way toward helping airlines hire the best pilots and avoid hiring those with shoddy records.
“This new system will be a useful tool in the recruitment of qualified pilots and is the latest airline safety measure made possible thanks to the tireless efforts of the families whose lives have been forever changed by the crash of Flight 3407,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat from Buffalo.
Through the pilot records database, commercial airlines will be able to see any records that the FAA has regarding pilot performance. Airlines previously had to request such information from the FAA, and could get it only if the pilot waived a privacy provision and allowed the FAA to release the records.
Now, though, the new database is open to any commercial airline that chooses to use it, allowing for instant access to records that in many cases were not available before.
“The pilot records database will streamline the hiring process and will be an important tool for maintaining accurate records of pilot training and qualifications,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, who helped push the aviation safety law to passage in 2010. “The Flight 3407 families have long fought to make this database a reality, and I am proud to have worked alongside them to achieve this important step toward making air travel safer for all Americans.”
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat from Fairport, also commended the families with making sure the pilot records database became a reality.
“It is because of their advocacy that we passed into law new pilot safety standards and we haven’t seen another fatal regional airline crash since,” Slaughter said.