Es­tab­lish­ing records data­base a pri­or­ity for crash fam­i­lies

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

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.

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