Responding to the report, the FAA said in a statement that more than 90 percent of air carriers now use voluntary programs in which pilots and others report safety problems with the understanding that there will be no reprisals for their conduct or computer-assisted programs that identify and report safety trends. "This has led to significant training, operational and maintenance program improvements," the statement said.
The agency also noted that it has "delivered seven reports to Congress, initiated five rulemaking projects and continued rulemaking efforts for another four final rules as a result of the" new safety law.
The inspector general's report, however, details how FAA has missed deadlines and run into complications trying to issue regulations necessary to implement key portions of the law.
For example, the FAA is behind schedule on rules to substantially increase the experience required to become an airline pilot from the current 250 flight hours to 1,500 flight hours. The agency currently estimates it will issue the rules in August, a year after the deadline set in the law. Airlines, worried they won't be able to find enough qualified new pilots, oppose the increase, arguing that a pilot's quality and type of flying should be weighed more heavily than the number of flight hours.
The FAA has proposed a compromise that would allow military pilots with 750 hours of flight experience or pilots with 1,000 hours and a four-year aviation degree to qualify to be hired as an airline pilot, but airlines remain opposed. If the FAA doesn't act by the August deadline, the increase to 1,500 hours will take effect without the exceptions offered in FAA's compromise proposals.
Yet the FAA and its inspectors haven't taken steps to ensure regional airlines, which will most affected, will be able to meet the new requirements, the report said. At two regional carriers visited by the inspector general's office, 75 percent of the first officers didn't have an air transport certificate — the highest level pilot's license issued by the FAA —which will be required for all airline pilots by the August deadline.
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