"Enhancing Safety Through Training and Experience"
Michael Huerta, Minneapolis, MN
May 22, 2012

Regional Airline Association

Thank you, Rick (Leach, President of Compass Airlines) for that kind introduction. I just toured the exhibit hall and was impressed with the next generation aircraft, engine technology and avionics on display. In spending just a few quick minutes in the hall today, you see the industry is going through significant technological transformation. As you all know, we are moving into the Next Generation air transportation system.

We’re moving from the ground-based navigation of the last century to the satellite-based system of tomorrow. So it’s a very challenging time for us in aviation.

And we are moving towards an aviation system that will be even safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable – one that will have more direct routes, fewer delays and more predictability.

It’s not just here in the United States. The entire world is changing the way we handle air traffic.

As we make this transformation, with new technology, new aircraft and new procedures, and a re-energized workforce, we need to focus on how we can use new techniques to make the system even safer and smarter.

The industry has a fabulous safety record, but we all know that we cannot rest on our laurels. 

We are moving from a system of accident investigation and forensic study, to a proactive analysis of data. We want to understand what might happen so that we can make changes to address safety risks that might be out there. That’s a smarter way of doing business.

And we plan to address this in a variety of ways. We want operators to establish Safety Management Systems. This is how we find out where problems might exist, and how we catch errors, and ultimately how we improve safety. At the FAA we are already using SMS in our Air Traffic Organization and are extending it to other areas throughout the agency.

The aviation industry has always been a leader in using data to analyze risk. And I must take a moment here to thank all of you at RAA for your excellent response to our Call to Action in 2009. At that time, we asked you to institute voluntary reporting programs like ASAP – the Aviation Safety Action Program –and you did. Now all of your Part 121 U.S. airline members have instituted ASAP. That is 100 percent participation. That’s incredibly impressive as an industry. This program is so important to collecting safety information that otherwise would probably not come to light. We rely on individuals to report errors and safety-related information, and they do so with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

I urge everyone to institute FOQA – Flight Operational Quality Assurance – as well. I know I may be preaching to the converted with RAA members, however, there’s still room to improve and for more regional airlines to institute FOQA. It’s an important and very useful program.

The great thing about these programs and databases is that they provide us all the ability to work collaboratively to analyze data across different operators and different types of employees in the aviation industry. 

Our goal is simple. It’s to understand the behavior and correct it in a way that will enhance the safety culture that we all value.

At the FAA we have created similar safety databases, based on non-punitive reporting for air traffic controllers and for those who repair equipment in our national airspace sytem.   

These kinds of databases help us all continuously improve training, so aviation professionals are equipped to handle a wide variety of different situations. This is one of the ways we are being more collaborative and much smarter about how we advance the cause of safety.

Another avenue is through improving pilot training and also pilot qualifications.  And also through recognizing and combatting pilot fatigue.

In the last three years—more than two billion people have flown on U.S. commercial aircraft without a single fatal accident.

In large part, that’s because of the efforts across the aviation industry – thanks to thousands of dedicated pilots, maintenance personnel, airport operators, air traffic controllers, FAA inspectors and technical specialists.

Our goal is to maintain this safety record but also to improve upon it. Now is not the time to become complacent.  Instead, we all have to remain extremely vigilant. America expects precision and perfection from the aviation industry, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

One area we have addressed head-on is the issue of pilot fatigue. Late last year we issued the landmark rule on pilot fatigue that ensures pilots have a longer opportunity for rest before they enter the cockpit. It also ensures that work schedules are based on the latest fatigue science.

Combatting fatigue in the cockpit is the obligation of both airlines and pilots, and they need to do it by working together. Every pilot has a personal responsibility to arrive at work fit for duty. The new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need.

Many RAA members are very familiar with the rules we are also working on for pilot training and qualification –you have served on the rulemaking committees. So I want to thank you for your service and I want to thank you for your participation as we work to enhance safety in every way we can.

The FAA has focused a lot of energy on enhancing both the certification and qualification for our airline crew members.

As you know, we are raising the baseline qualifications for first officers who fly for U.S. passenger and U.S. cargo airlines. The proposed rule, which we introduced in February, would require first officers to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which is the highest pilot certificate available.

Not only do we want to require that certificate, but we propose to increase the training to achieve it. For example, we believe that it’s necessary to have both academic and flight training in critical operating skills. This includes learning more about high altitude aero-dynamics, handling stalls and upsets and knowing how to perform in multi-pilot operations.

I understand that RAA members are already adding the training needed for an ATP certificate to their training programs. That is good news. The ATP requirement goes into effect in August of 2013, regardless of any rulemaking action by the FAA. So that means it will go into effect in little over a year.

We are also proposing to increase the experience to become the captain of a U.S. passenger or cargo airline.  You would need at least 1000 hours in multi-crew air carrier operations before upgrading to captain.  This would not include flights such as crop dusting or banner towing – but actual air carrier experience.

Later in the conference, John Duncan of the FAA will discuss this topic of how to recruit more young people into the aviation industry and ways to accrue the necessary hours. And we’ve had a lot of conversations about whether these changes will affect the shortage of aviation professionals in the future. That’s a big question, and we have to resolve it in a way that allows us to maintain the highest levels of safety.  

Once these crew members are hired, we also want to ensure that the baseline training they receive is updated and applicable to the types of environments they are going to face in their jobs. 

We are working on a final rule for pilot and crew training that will improve safety. It would require pilots to demonstrate their skills in real scenarios – situations that they might encounter in the cockpit.

Of course, many of you are familiar with AQP, the Advanced Qualification Program. This is a voluntary, FAA crew member training program which incorporates many of the safety enhancements in this proposed rule.  I know many of you have benefitted from this kind of training and we want everyone to be able to do so.

The FAA has consistently issued strong training guidance to carriers. But this proposed rule does represent the most significant overhaul of crew training in the last 20 years. 

This is a major effort to strengthen the performance of pilots, flight attendants and dispatchers through better training.

The difference is, though, rather than have a pilot execute a recovery in a highly choreographed event, the new training will be conducted as if they were actually on a flight.

Today’s operating environment is incredibly complex and we must ensure that training and knowledge are applied to real life situations. Not only do we want the flight crews to show us they have mastered individual skills, we want them to demonstrate that they can apply those skills in real world situations.

And those real world situations are always changing in a dynamic industry like ours. We are constantly learning more about flight and improving the way we fly.

It will take all of us working together as an aviation industry to continue to enhance safety in an industry that is already very, very safe. But we are making progress. I want to thank you for your efforts to encourage an open safety culture where everyone can talk about safety concerns in a constructive way. And thank you for your professionalism in doing the job the right way, every day. 

Thank you very much.