Safety and Education Take Center Stage at RACCA

 - May 16, 2019, 6:27 AM

Officials from the FAA, NTSB, and Cargo Airline Association all provided key insights into government policy, regulations, and safety protocols for the airline and cargo industries at the 17th annual Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA) Spring Conference held in Scottsdale, Arizona, in April. The three-day conference featured more than 60 exhibitors, 15 general and breakout sessions, static displays at Scottsdale Airport, and a silent auction that raised $20,000 for RACCA’s scholarship program with matching grants from members.  

NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsburg kicked off the general sessions by citing a 2017 incident where an Air Canada Airbus A320 on final approach to San Francisco International Airport (KSFO) at night mistakenly lined up to land on a taxiway and missed colliding with other airliners by an estimated 14 to 29 feet upon go-around. The near-miss involving up to 1,000 people prompted the NTSB to launch a full investigation.

“There is no question the [Air Canada] crew was badly fatigued,” Landsburg said. “The captain had been up for 19 hours. It was 3 in the morning according to their circadian rhythm time. A lot of cargo runs are at night, and there are ways to cope with this, but it is something we have to be cognizant of.”

Landsburg said that as part of that incident, the NTSB made a recommendation to Transport Canada to revise flight crew fatigue regulations, which were “not as restrictive as those in the U.S.” The new regulations were issued in December 2018.

Citing the May 2014 crash on takeoff of a Gulfstream G-IV at Hanscom Field, Massachusetts, where the crew failed to turn off the gust locks and the interlock failed, Landsburg advocated the use of cameras in cockpits to ensure checklists are being followed, noting that human behavior changes when people know they are being observed.

“As a general rule of thumb, we’re not monitoring cockpits because we trust our people to do the right thing,” Landsburg said. He then referred to an NBAA survey conducted after the Hanscom accident. “The NBAA survey measured whether the crews on business aircraft were checking the flight controls before takeoff. About a quarter of those crews did not check to make sure the flight controls were free. This is not a recipe for success.” 

1,500-hour Requirement

Following Landsburg, Jerome Randolph “Randy” Babbitt, FAA Administrator from March 2009 to December 2011, spoke about the 1,500-hour flight officer requirement established after the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident in February 2009 as “first on the list of mandates [from the accident] that are proving to be not very helpful.” A former Eastern Airlines captain, Babbitt began his FAA tenure just weeks after the accident and testified against the 1,500-hour requirement, emphasizing that hours in the air do not necessarily equate to greater experience.

“If you take a pilot who has just graduated with an accredited [aviation] degree with 500 flight hours and test them, they are going to do really well,” Babbitt said. “At this level, they have a lot more training background, especially in the academic side. Then you make them go fly for another thousand hours dusting crops, flying banners, instructing, and test them two to three years later, they test worse. They haven’t practiced anything, haven’t received any guidance or instruction.”

Babbitt noted that ICAO currently caps simulator time toward the ATP at 100 hours compared with the FAA’s 25-hour allowance, and that ICAO is considering increasing simulator allowance up to 200 hours toward the ATP.

“Allowing someone to get into a situation that they can’t get out of in the simulator, that’s a learning experience,” Babbitt said. “The simulator techniques that we have today and the quality of the simulation is unparalleled. The old joke used to be that the simulator flies like the airplane. Now pilots go on the line and they say the airplane flies just like the simulator.”

James Viola, director of the FAA’s Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance, discussed NTSB recommendations concerning Part 135, including safety management systems (SMS), controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) training and technology, and adopting flight operations quality assurance (FOQA). Viola stressed that despite the NTSB’s recommendations, the FAA is not planning to “take the Part 121 standard and apply it across all of general aviation.”

“The FAA is still in the process of developing our response to the NTSB’s 2019-2020 ‘want’ list,” said Viola. “While obviously we find any unnecessary injury, loss of life, or damage to aircraft unacceptable, we take a tiered approach in which requirements for Part 121 are more stringent than requirements for Part 135.”

Viola said that while the FAA intends to evaluate its current guidance, regulations, and policy for Part 135 operators to determine potential options to satisfy the NTSB’s recommendations, the FAA’s resources for additional SMS, CFIT, or FOQA changes are limited. “We have been advocating and approving voluntary programs and providing information such as CFIT avoidance recommendations to operators regardless of whether their operation requires this equipage.”

Viola also mentioned a new aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) directed by the 2018 Reauthorization Bill to review Part 117 Flight and Duty Limitations and Rest Requirements for application to Part 135 operators. Viola said the ARC will include up to 20 members from the air carrier community to include operators of various size and representatives from organizations such as RACCA.

Educating Legislators

Stephen Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association and chair of the Management Advisory Council to the FAA, discussed politics from a Washington, D.C. perspective. He opened with the impact of the five-week FAA shutdown that occurred earlier this year, advocating support of H.R. 1108 Aviation Funding Stability Act introduced in February to use the aviation trust fund surplus to keep the FAA open during future funding gaps.

“[The FAA] can’t really make long-term capital investment decisions when they must be funded from Congress every year,” said Alterman. “But the [aviation] taxes are enough to fund the FAA and there is currently a $7 billion surplus in the trust fund that the FAA cannot spend because the money hasn’t been appropriated.”

Alterman noted with amusement that a portion of the recent FAA reauthorization bill—Section 744—that was removed due to “extensive lobbying by the pilot community” would have authorized an FAA research and development program in support of single-pilot all-cargo operations.

“We thought it was a cool idea, but it doesn’t matter whether there’s a study because we’re going to get down to one pilot, and down to none eventually. That’s just the way the world is heading,” Alterman said. “Private industry is moving at a faster pace than any government agency can respond. We need to trust each other and work together on safety and security because the government can’t be expected to do it alone.”

Alterman said one way the air cargo industry is working with Congress is by holding caucuses to help inform Congressional members about the day-to-day workings of the industry outside of specific issues.

“The aviation industry is good about conveying concerns to Congress, but doesn’t do well at educating Congressional members about aviation when there isn’t a specific concern,” Alterman said. He described the first air cargo caucus held in March, which attracted about 40 Congressional representatives mainly from districts that “touch” air freight. “We’re not the largest caucus, but we now have a body of people who say they are interested in air cargo within the U.S. Congress.”