FAA Panel Delivers Sweeping Recommendations on Deregulation — Update
DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC. 7:29 PM ET 9/17/2017
A federal advisory committee’s sweeping deregulation proposals are roiling the world of airplane safety.
As part of President Donald Trump’s governmentwide drive targeting what he and aides call outdated or unnecessary restrictions, the panel of industry and labor representatives has delivered a report urging the Federal Aviation Administration to eliminate or roll back more than 50 longstanding air-safety rules.
Completed last week but not yet publicly released, the document recommends loosening controls over everything from pilot training to structural testing of new models. Several of the specifics are prompting opposition from some union groups, outside safety advocates and families of crash victims.
The panel, called the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, in a prior report identified hundreds of other regulations it said were ripe for repeal or modification, according to one person familiar with the details.
The agency’s initial response was noncommittal, stressing that the recommendations “do not mean any action will be taken to modify or eliminate existing rules.” A statement from a spokeswoman over the weekend also said the agency intends to carefully review each item and determine next steps by applying “the FAA’s prevailing criteria to maintain today’s historic level of aviation safety.”
The recommendations set the stage for debates in coming years over loosening or entirely doing away with some rules that are integral parts of the FAA’s safety program but haven’t been amended or, in many cases reassessed, for decades.
Some of the proposals involve obscure or relatively minor irritants, such as redundant paperwork, duplicate regulations and outdated requirements for ashtrays outside lavatories dating back to an era when smoking was allowed on airliners. But others focus on big-ticket regulatory mandates that entail major costs for industry, including the way plane makers and the FAA determine the structural integrity and fatigue tolerance of large airplane parts or sections.
The panel, among other things, urged more flexibility by substituting computer simulations and inspections of older aircraft for more-expensive ground tests. The savings “could be hundreds of millions of dollars” versus full-scale testing, according to the report.
Two other recommendations urge relying on engineering analysis, rather than primarily flight tests, to determine vibration characteristics or strength of certain parts.
Critics contend neither FAA nor industry experts are familiar enough yet with the long-term structural strength of certain composite structures to ensure the validity of such computer-based analysis.
The committee also is seeking to revise certain reporting rules, echoing unsuccessful efforts in the past by industry officials. One rule submitted for modification deals with data collection about engine reliability, in-flight shutdowns, oil loss and uncommanded power changes for twin-engine airliners authorized to fly extended routes over water or polar regions. The changes appears designed to reduce certain FAA reporting requirements for this category of aircraft — as long as the problematic events occur during trips over land or shorter overwater flights.
In addition, the panel reiterated calls by other FAA-chartered committees and industry-backed studies to find new alternatives to requiring most co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time before they can be hired to fly passengers. A Senate bill extending the FAA’s overall authority, which expires at the end of the month, includes a similar provision.
According to the report, reducing the 1,500-hour minimum is essential to prevent pilot shortages from reducing commercial service commuter carriers are able to provide rural communities. Pilot unions and other groups strongly oppose dropping the 1,500 hour threshold, contending it would erode safety. The report notes that alternate “pathways” to hiring new co-pilots “would only be approved if they were proven to enhance safety.”
Commercial accident rates across the U.S. have been at record low levels for years, with the last deadly crash involving a scheduled domestic carrier occurring in 2009.
Yet by challenging certain traditional safeguards — and advocating changes tied to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in industry savings over the years — the report primarily reflects the desires of manufacturers, equipment suppliers, airlines and private aviation groups.
After months of internal deliberations with mixed results, FAA officials in April asked the panel to identify regulations that are outmoded, unnecessary or ineffective, “Inhibit job creation,” or “impose costs that exceed benefits.”
The Association of Flight Attendants, a union with nearly 50,000 members, officially dissented from the latest report. It argued that the package of recommendations amounted to “a grab bag of unfiltered wish lists submitted by individual” interest groups participating in the process.
Labor representatives also objected to calls for less-stringent pilot training rules increasing credit for time spent in simulators versus behind the controls of an actual aircraft. The union representing airline dispatchers dissented from a proposal lowering to 21 from 23 the minimum age for obtaining a certificate to perform such work.
Write to Andy Pasztor at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is rare for me to fly. I also made up my mind that I did not want to fly again due to seat size and other things about flying.
But I have a daughter that flys all the time. I worry about her flying so much. Now, I will be scared to death.
We do not need deregulation. We need more regulation. We know that industry and big business does not care about us. They are only interested in making money.