During the period between 1987 and 1994, the US air carrier industry suffered at least 7 fatal commercial airline accidents that were attributed, in part, to errors made by pilots who had been hired without background safety checks being completed. Later reviews of these pilots' records revealed prior safety violations or training problems which followed them to subsequent air carrier employment without the new air carrier being aware of these violations or problems.

In all cases, the new air carrier(s) had lacked access to, or had failed to obtain, the pilots' flight qualifications and other safety related records from the FAA and/or previous employers before completing the hiring process, thereby creating the potential for substandard pilot performance to continue. As a result, on October 3, 1996, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 (the Act).

The President approved the Act six days later on October 9, 1996. This Act, which had an effective date 120 days after enactment, is commonly referred to as the "Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996" (PRIA). PRIA now authorizes the mandatory gathering and sharing of this specific information, which enables a hiring air carrier to make an informed decision before extending a firm offer of employment to a pilot applicant.