Chaired By: Senator Byron Dorgan
Witnesses: Mark Rosenker, Acting Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board; Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General, Department of Transportation; J. Randolph Babbitt, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration; John O'Brien, Board Member, Flight Safety Foundation
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SEN. DORGAN (D-ND): (Sounds gavel.) We'll call the hearing to order. Good afternoon to everyone. I want to thank all of you for joining us here today to talk about a very important subject, the subject of aviation safety. This is the subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.
It's the first of two hearings that we will hold, one today and one next week to discuss aviation safety, with a particular focus on the safety of regional airlines. In this hearing, we will receive testimony from the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Department of Transportation Inspector General, and an independent safety expert from the Flight Safety Foundation, Mr. O'Brien, who I have just mentioned is not yet here. He's stuck in some traffic, but he will be with us momentarily.
At our next hearing on June 17th, we will hear from other witnesses including some of the airlines and some pilots.
Let me begin the subject of safety by saying in this country, I think we have a remarkably safe system of air travel. The safety record is extraordinary. And it's not my intention here to alarm anyone about considering taking a flight on a regional carrier, or any airline for that matter. But I do think we have a responsibility to examine airline crashes when they occur, and to ensure that we do all we can to prevent future accidents.
We've all heard the story of the tragic crash in February of this year of Continental connection Flight 3407 from Buffalo, New York -- or rather in Buffalo, New York. This flight was operated by Colgan Air. The plane was a Bombardier Dash 8 operated by a captain and a copilot, both of whom had commuted fairly long distances to get to work, and were found to have had little rest before the flight. The copilot revealed her inexperience in flying in icy conditions in the transcript of the voice recording that I have read, and I'm sure my colleagues have as well. The captain had previously failed a number of flight tests.
We'll hear from the NTSB, which has been investigating, but it sounds like the captain just made the wrong decision at the wrong time, flying in very, very difficult icing conditions. I worry, when I have looked at this and read the transcript of the cockpit recording and all of the other issues, that there are issues here of fatigue, training, commuting and perhaps salaries that could've played a role.
I'm concerned about the airlines and the FAA's ability to prevent inexperienced pilots from flying planes they might be less familiar with than that should be, or in icy weather, for example, when they are less experienced in icing conditions than you would expect them to be.
We are supposed to be having one level of safety for both regional and major carriers. And I want to hear from our new administrator, FAA Administrator Babbitt whether he thinks that is actually the case, and whether the FAA has kept up with the changes in the industry and is able to ensure one level of safety. Does a standard exist of one level, and is that standard enforced to one level?
I sent a letter to the Department of Transportation Inspector General to ask that they review the FAA's role in the development and certification of training programs that airlines require for pilots, the extent to which the FAA can verify that pilots are receiving appropriate training, and the ability of the FAA to verify the qualifications of pilots to operate specific aircraft. And I'm pleased that the inspector general is here with us today.
I also sent a letter to the GAO to ask that they study the safety practice in place to prevent and deal with icing conditions.
Let me say that the NTSB, in my judgment, appears to be doing a very thorough job, which is not a surprise to me, in trying to gain an understanding of this crash. We need to fully understand it and find out what changes, if any, are necessary to be made to ensure it doesn't happen again.
So as I've said, this will be the first of two such hearings, and our witnesses today will be Randy Babbitt, the administrator of the FAA, Mark Rosenker, the acting chairman of the NTSB, Calvin Scovel, the inspector general at the Department of Transportation, and John O'Brien who will be with us shortly, a member of the board of the Flight Safety Foundation.
I indicated that I am going to call on the ranking member of this subcommittee for an opening statement, and then the chairman and ranking member of the full committee, and then call on the witnesses, and then have seven-minute rounds for questions.
SEN. DEMINT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I particularly want to thank you for your diligence and your sense of urgency in having these hearings and trying to get answers to American people and all passengers. I appreciate the witnesses being here today.
I'm not going to give a full opening statement because I want to get to you, but just the possible weaknesses on the carrier side are obviously important. I agree with everything the chairman says. But in interviewing some of the carriers, the one involved with this, there may be things on our side that we can do, such as our privacy regulations that keep carriers from having access to some of the records that we now fault the carrier for not responding to. I'd like to hear more about that from some of you.
But Mr. Babbitt, you know, and you met with me and some of the parents who lost loved ones in that crash, all we ask of you is that once this report comes out and it makes recommendations, will we respond or will we make the same mistakes again. And I hope we can talk about that today. We can talk about theory is one thing, but these parents are asking us what are we going to do about it when we find out what it is we should do.
So thanks again for being here. I appreciate all three of you. And I yield to the ranking --
SEN. DORGAN: Ranking member of the full committee, Senator Hutchison.
SEN. HUTCHISON (R-TX): Well, thank you, Senator Dorgan and Senator DeMint.
Of course, I have been the chairman of this great subcommittee, and having been the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, safety is always going to be the highest priority on my agenda. And I will always remain interested, so get ready. I'm going to be an active member of this subcommittee.
But seriously, having had the NTSB experience, we've made some great strides. As you know, we have two standards, we did, for the regionals and the air carriers. But we don't anymore. We're now all together in the 121 category. But the fact is that some of the largest airlines have larger also safety programs, and they have higher standards that even the minimum in 121. And Mr. Babbitt, I know that's something that you're going to want to look at, is do we have the right minimum standard, or should we start stepping it up to be more in line with some of the larger air carriers.
But the troubling thing, of course, is that four of the last five accidents that we have had in our country have been regional jets, and clearly, we have -- well, maybe they haven't all been jets, but I assume that they were, anyway, the regional carriers. And I think pilot issues have been a part of that. So what I'm going to want to hear, and as you to particularly look at, is obviously the pilot history, crew rest calculations, cockpit oversight, training paramount, but also maintenance training.
That's not probably in most of these accidents, but I think we do need to look just because we're beginning to see that maybe maintenance training and oversight needs to be coming into the safety factors as well.
I will just support what Senator Dorgan said. We have the safest system in the world, and we have had wonderful FAA and NTSB involvement. Our investigators are the best, and they come up with the causes, and we have learned from those causes, and we have made the adjustments by the FAA through the years.
So I think that we are a safe aviation country, but we should be now saying let's take another look. Let's see where we need to be more stringent and have more oversight just to assure that we're doing everything possible because I know there are people in this audience whose lives have been affected by some of these tragic accidents.
So I really appreciate that you're holding the hearing. I do have a conflicting hearing, so I will not be able to stay. But I will get the testimony, and when we are into the FAA reauthorization and when we're into the safety standards, I will be very active. And I want to have the input. I will look at everything that you have said, and we will work together in what is in all of our interests.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Hutchison, thank you very much. And thanks for your work on this subcommittee over the years.
Senator Rockefeller, the chairman of the full committee is not able to be with us.
If the three of you who are here would wish to make a one- minute opening statement very briefly, I'd be happy to recognize any of the three of you.
SEN. LAUTENBERG (D-NJ): Just very quickly, Mr. Chairman, because I do want to hear -- we all want to hear from the witnesses, and we're pleased to have the new administrator of the FAA and the IG, people with confidence and experience. And that's just what we ought to be doing, is looking at the safety side.
People are anxious to go places. They still crown airplanes. There are still huge delays and so forth. But the overriding concern is safety, and Mr. Chairman, I commend you for your holding this.
SEN. DORGAN: Well, as we recognize the witnesses, let me just make one final point. Most consumers get on an airplane, and all they see on the fuselage is the brand name of that carrier. And they don't know whether it's a commuter or a trunk carrier, a major. They just see the brand name.
And the question I think for all of us as we begin to hear the witnesses is should passengers expect that the same confidence and the same capability, the same experience and the same judgment exists in that cockpit no matter the size of the airplane, because they don't know whether it's a commuter or a major carrier. Does it exist today? That's what we're asking because a lot of evidence suggested, at least in the most recent crash, that was not the case.
And so let me commend the NTSB for the extraordinary work they're doing. And I'm going to begin with the Honorable Randy Babbitt, Randolph Babbitt, the administrator of the FAA. I'm very please that you've decided to serve your country in this way, and you're new to that job. But I will recognize you. And I would say to all four witnesses, your entire statements will be made a part of the permanent record, and we would ask you to summarize.
Mr. Babbitt, you may proceed.
MR. BABBITT: Thank you, sir. (Off mike.) I'm sorry. Chairman Dorgan, Senator DeMint and members of the full committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the FAA's role in the oversight of air carriers.
Let me start by saying that we at the FAA mourn the tragic loss of Colgan Air Flight 3407, and as well as the families and crewmembers aboard the Air France 447. This is an agency that's dedicated to air safety, and any loss is felt keenly by all of us. And our sympathies go out to both the families of 3407 and Air France 447.
As you noted, Senator, this is my first appearance at a hearing since I was sworn in as FAA Administrator on June 1st, and I want to thank this committee again for both your support and your confidence in me.
We do have an ambitious agenda, and I think I discussed some of that with you at the confirmation, and I intend to work very hard to achieve the safety goals that we've set forth and are the challenge of the FAA.
And since the mid 1990's, there has been a requirement for one level of safety, that all regional carriers must operate under the same rules and at the same level of safety as their major airline counterparts. And I'm proud to say that when I was president of the Airline Pilot's Association back in that time period, I led office efforts to work with the FAA to make those changes. And all carriers that operate aircraft today that have 10 or more seats are required to meet the exact same safety standards, and are subject to the same level of safety oversight across the board.
When the NTSB conducted its public hearing last month -- and I commend them on that hearing -- several issues came to light when they were investigating the Colgan Air crash. Issues such as pilot training and qualifications. Issues such as flight crew fatigue and consistency of safety standards, and compliance between air transportation operators. And given that the NTSB has not yet concluded this investigation, I can't really speak today to any of their potential findings.
My written testimony will provide details as to the current regulations and requirements with regard to pilot training, pilot records and flight time and duty time limitations.
I can also tell you that yesterday, Secretary LaHood and I announced that we have ordered FAA inspectors to immediately focus their inspections on training programs to better ensure that all airlines, including regional airlines, are complying with federal regulations.
We're gathering representatives from major air carriers, their regional partners, aviation industry groups, and later, here in Washington D.C. next week on the 15th, to participate in a call to action to improve airline safety. This review will address those issues, pilot training, cockpit discipline, and other issues associated with flight safety.
And while we await the findings of the NTSB investigation of the Colgan Air accident, the secretary and I believe that there is absolutely no time to lose in acting upon information that we already have gathered.
So on June 15th, our summit is designed to foster actions and voluntary commitments in four key areas; air carrier management responsibilities for aircrew education and support. Second, professional standards and flight discipline in the cockpit. Number three would be training standards in performance. And fourth, the mentoring relationships between mainline carriers and their regional partners.
The Colgan Air accident and the loss of Air France 447 remind us that we cannot rest on our (laurels ?) of a great safety record, and that we must remain alert and vigilant to the challenges in our aviation system. We've got to continue to work to enhance the air safety within this system. This is a business where one mistake is one mistake too many.
So Senator Dorgan, Senator DeMint and the members of the committee, this concludes my prepared remarks, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have as a follow on. Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Administrator Babbitt, thank you very much for being with us. Next, we will hear from the Honorable Calvin Scovel, who is the inspector general at the Department of Transportation.
Mr. Scovel, you may proceed.
MR. SCOVEL: Chairman Dorgan, Ranking Member DeMint, members of the subcommittee, we appreciate the opportunity to testify today regarding the FAA's role in the oversight of air carriers.
Safety is a responsibility shared among FAA, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and airports. Together, all four form a series of overlapping controls to keep the system safe. The past several years have been one of the safest periods in history for the aviation industry. However, the tragic accident in February of Colgan Flight 3407 underscores the need for constant vigilance over aviation safety on the part of all stakeholders.
Last month, NTSB held a preliminary hearing into the cause of the Colgan accident, in which some evidence suggested that pilot training and fatigue may have contributed to the crash. As a result, Mr. Chairman, you, along with Committee Chairman Rockefeller, Committee Ranking Member Hutchison and Ranking Subcommittee Member DeMint requested that our office begin an extensive investigation into some of the issues that were brought to light during the NTSB hearing. We have already begun work on this review.
Today, I will first address two major weaknesses related to FAA's oversight of the aviation industry, and then move on to operational differences between mainline and regional carriers.
First, this subcommittee's hearing in April 2008 highlighted weaknesses in FAA's risk-based oversight system known as ATOS, and air carrier compliance with safety directives. While our work identified safety lapses in Southwest Airlines compliance, many stakeholders were concerned that they could be symptomatic of much deeper problems with FAA's air carrier oversight on a system-wide level.
For example, in 2002 we reported that FAA needed to develop national oversight processes to ensure that ATOS is affectively and consistently implemented. In 2005, we found that inspectors did not complete 26 percent of planned ATOS inspections. Last year, we reported that weaknesses in FAA's implementation of ATOS allowed compliance issues in Southwest's maintenance program to go undetected for several years.
Further, our ongoing work has determined that lapses in oversight inspections were not limited to Southwest. FAA oversight offices for seven other major air carriers also missed ATOS inspections. Some had been allowed to lapse well beyond the five-year inspection cycle.
Additionally, FAA's national oversight of other facets of the aviation industry, such as repair stations, has struggled to keep pace with the dynamic changes occurring in the industry. These facilities are rapidly becoming air carrier's primary source for aircraft maintenance.
We have found that FAA relies heavily on air carriers to provide oversight of those repair stations. However, that oversight has not always been affective. We reported that air carriers did not identify all deficiencies at repairs stations, and did not adequately follow up on deficiencies identified to ensure problems were corrected.
This is an area of particular concern for regional carriers who rely heavily on repairs stations. According to data provided to the department regionals, ascending as much as half their maintenance to repair stations. NTSB's investigation into the crash of another regional carrier, Air Midwest Flight 5481 in January 2003 identified serious lapses in the carrier's oversight of outsourced maintenance.
Last month's NTSB hearing brought to light the need to closely examine the regulations governing pilot training and rest requirements, and requisite oversight to ensure compliance. These issues are particularly critical at regional carriers. The last six fatal accidents involving regional air carriers, NTSB cited pilot performance as a potential contributory factor in four of those six accidents.
Moving to our second concern related to operational difference between mainline and regional air carriers, it's critical that there be one level of safety for all carriers. Regional flights represent one-half of the total scheduled flights across the country, and regional airlines provide the only scheduled airline service to over 400 American communities.
In response to your new request, our preliminary audit work has identified differences in regional and mainline carriers operations, and potential differences in pilot training programs and level of flight experience. We are also looking into FAA's role in determining whether air carriers at both mainline and regional air carriers have developed programs to ensure pilots are adequately trained and have sufficient experience to perform their responsibilities.
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to reiterate that we will continue to do our part in advancing the department's goal of one level of safety. While all stakeholders are committed to getting it right, our work has identified a number of significant vulnerabilities that must be addressed. This will require actions in areas FAA has already targeted for improvement, as well as other areas where FAA will need to revisit differences in standards and regulations and rethink its approach to safety oversight.
That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman. I'd be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Scovel, thank you very much for your testimony, and for you work at the inspector general's office.
Next, we'll hear from the Honorable Mark Rosenker. I hope I have that correct. And he's the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Mr. Rosenker, you may proceed.
MR. ROSENKER: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member DeMint, distinguished member of the committee.
I'd like to begin my testimony this afternoon with a short summary of the NTSB's investigative actions to date regarding the accident involving Colgan Air Flight 3407. I want to emphasize that this is still an ongoing investigation, and there is significant work left for our investigators.
My testimony today, therefore, will be limited to those facts we have identified to date, and I will steer clear of any analysis of what we have found so far and avoid any ultimate conclusions that might be drawn from that information.
On February 12, 2009 at about 10:17 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Colgan Air Flight 3407, Bombardier Dash-8Q400 crashed during an instrument approach to runway 23, Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Buffalo, New York. The flight was operating as a part 121 scheduled passenger flight from Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. Four crewmembers and 45 passengers were killed, and the aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and post-crash fire. One person in a house was also killed, and two individuals escaped the house with minor injuries.
On May 12, 2009, the NTSB commenced a three-day public hearing on the ac in which we explored airplane performance, cold weather operations, sterile cockpit compliance, flight crew training and performance, and fatigue management. I'd like to note that all of these issues are pertinent to every airline operation, major air carriers as well as regional air carriers.
Our investigation continues, and we continue to make progress every day.
I'd now like to discuss some of the board's important safety recommendations that we have made over the years. The NTSB has issued numerous recommendations to the FAA on stall training, stick-pusher training, pilot records, remedial training for pilots, sterile cockpit, situational awareness, pilot monitoring skills, low air speed alerting systems, pilot professionalism and fatigue, as well as aircraft icing. Two of these issue areas, aircraft icing and human fatigue, are on the board's most wanted list of safety and crew improvements.
While there are currently more than 450 open recommendations to the FAA, on January 12th of this year, the FAA took actions on some of those recommendations when they published a notice of proposed rulemaking addressing pilot training and qualifications. The notice also proposes to amend issues, including the requirement of flight training simulators in traditional flight crewmember training programs, and adding training requirements in safety critical areas. The NPRM addresses issues raised in numerous safety recommendations, the issue that we issued to the FAA.
In 1995, the NTSB issued recommendations to the FAA to require an airline to evaluate an applicant pilot's experience, skills and ability before hiring the individual. The following year, Congress enacted the Pilot Records Improvement Act, PRIA. That came in 1996 and required any company hiring a pilot for air transportation, request and receive records from any organization that had previously employed the pilot during the previous five years.
However, the PRIA does not require an airline to obtain FAA records of failed flight checks. The board has recognized that additional date contained in FAA records, including records of flight check failures and rechecks, would be very beneficial for a potential employer to review and evaluate.
Therefore, in 2005 the NTSB issued another recommendation to the FAA to require airlines, when considering an applicant for pilot positions, to perform a complete review of the FAA airman records, including any notices of disapproval for flight checks. In response to the NTSB's recommendation, the FAA stated that notices of disapproval for flight checks or certificates and writings are not among the records explicitly required by PRIA of 1996. And therefore to mandate that, air carriers obtain such notices, would require rulemaking or a change in PRIA itself.
To the credit of the FAA, November 7th of 2007, an advisory circular was issued informing carriers that they can ask pilots to sign a consent forms giving the carrier access to any notices of disapproval. The recommendation is currently classified Open- Acceptable Alternative Response. However, to date, the FAA has not taken any rulemaking action, or asked Congress to modify the act.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony, and I will be glad to answer any questions at the appropriate time.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Rosenker, thank you very much.
And finally, we will hear from John O'Brien, who is a board member of the Flight Safety Foundation. Mr. O'Brien, we're pleased you're here. Your entire statement will be part of the record if you will summarize.
MR. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman Dorgan, Senator DeMint and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. We commend you, Mr. Chairman, and the committee for focusing on these critical aviation safety topics. We submitted a written statement that I'll summarize in the interest of time.
I'm here today representing the Flight Safety Foundation, but I also speak to you as a pilot who has served for 22 years as a director of engineering and air safety for ALPA. Although I don't speak for ALPA today, I participated in more than 50 accident investigations, so these issues are near and dear to my heart.
The Flight Safety Foundation was founded 60 years ago. It's a neutral floor where competitors can work together to share information, ideas and best practices for safety. Today, we represent over 1,000 organizations from 142 nations.
As the committee requested, our testimony is focused on specific measures that may be appropriate to improve pilot training, prevent errors resulting from crew fatigue, and address aircraft icing hazards. But in the interest of time, I'd like to highlight for the committee two topics that need particular attention. These topics cut across all the committee's issues.
The oldest and most memorable aviation safety tool is accident investigation. These investigations identify causes that lead to findings and recommendations. Objective investigations will always be in the central part of the air safety equation, but today, they are only part of a more complex picture.
Today, there's a management approach that can do more. The technique is a systems approach to aviation safety, a safety management system. This system will allow the FAA to carry out its inspection and oversight responsibilities in a much more affective way, and allow the operators to also assure that they are complying with the regulatory requirements.
Aviation safety professionals now have much more work with which they can adopt a more proactive safety management approach. They can identify risks, and prioritize actions by collecting and analyzing data from many different sources. Studies show that this type of data can give us hundreds of warnings before an accident occurs. By protecting this data and acting on it early, lives are saved.
Safety data is an invaluable commodity, excuse me. But if compromised, the consequences can be catastrophic. We cannot go back to a time when the only safety data was purchased at the cost of human life.
In light of recent judicial decisions or in disclosure of voluntary supplied safety information, and the use of accident investigation reports in civil litigation and criminal prosecutions around the world, we believe there is a need for legislative protection against the release or use of voluntary self-disclosed reporting programs. We are calling for the creation of a legislative qualified exception from discovery of voluntary self-disclosed reporting programs similar to that which is provided in U.S. law against discovery and use of cockpit and service vehicle recordings and transcripts.
The Foundation recommends legislative protection of such information against disclosure in any judicial proceedings except that a court may allow limited discovery if it decides the requesting party has demonstrated a unique need for the information and that the party would not receive a fair trial absent the information. In the event any discovery is permitted, the Foundation urges that it only be made available to a party under protective order and not generally made available to the public. We believe this legislative protection for the safety data is absolutely necessary and will save lives.
With regard to the issues of pilot training, fatigue and anti- icing programs, including those raised by the Colgan crash, we would strongly recommend the FAA's call for action this week with one comment. We suggest that the FAA reexamine the report described in our submission for the record. This report contains discussions and recommendations on aspects of pilot training and qualification beyond airline pilot training and qualifications, and the FAA might wish to investigate why the countermeasures and aircraft countermeasures training modules described in our written testimony concerning aircraft icing and fatigue have not produced the results that they were intended.
Thank you very much for allowing us an opportunity to testify before you today. I will be happy to take any of your questions.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. O'Brien, thank you very much for your testimony. Mr. Babbitt, my understanding is that a commercial airplane, a 737, a DC-9, perhaps an Airbus 320, that airplane has a record somewhere and everything that has gone wrong or all the maintenance, all the work that's been done on that airplane is recorded so that someone can go to that record and see everything that exists about that airplane since its birth. Is that correct?
MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, sir, that is correct.
SEN. DORGAN: Is the same true of the pilot, the person in the cockpit of that airplane? Is it possible to find all the information that you might want to find about the human factor in that plane, whether a pilot passed or failed the multi-engine rating, the commercial license, the instrument rating? So the reason I ask that question is a pilot that's been described here had, I believe, five failures in various exams and I believe the carrier did not know that, so if you can learn everything there is to know about an airplane, why do we not at this point have a central repository of everything there is to know about a pilot's records?
MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, sir. That does shine a little light on an area that we really have to look at. Currently the records exist. I think the issue that surrounds the concern is they exist in two different places. Any check ride, any testing that was done, written or otherwise with the FAA, is recorded by the FAA. However, when a pilot goes to work for an airline, if he's receiving routine training, whether it's upgrade, transition, recurrent training, proficiency checks, line checks, those records are not reported to the FAA but, instead, they're maintained by the carrier, and I think it was alluded to here by some of the other witnesses that perhaps we'd better take another look at how we join or provide access so that everyone can determine that information.
SEN. DORGAN: But they are not easily available and I think someone said the pilot would have to sign a waiver request to allow the employing company to get them, in which case perhaps the employing company simply goes back the five years and gets what records exist, and it seems to me that we need to fix that and fix that soon because there's no reason to know everything that you can know about the airplane but not the pilot that's flying the airplane.
I'd like to ask a question about commuting, if I might, and the issue of fatigue. I want to put up a chart that I think is an NTSB chart, that shows -- this happens to be Colgan Air pilots, probably not too different from most carriers. I'll ask you about that, Mr. Babbitt. This is Colgan air pilots commuting to the Newark base to begin work. You see that they live in one part of the country and commute to their duty station in Newark and then get on an airplane to fly.
And the issue of fatigue has been cited by some as a potential significant issue here. Perhaps in that cockpit both the pilot and the copilot were affected by fatigue issues. Would this chart look different if we were talking about another commuter or a trunk carrier? Is this unusual, Mr. Babbitt?
MR. BABBITT: No, sir. One of the issues that comes forward, it should be interesting to note for the record that the Colgan was a relatively new service provider, the capacity sale of their seats and service to Continental Airlines and then, you know, hence the reason they're commuting to Newark. The same carrier could sign an agreement, you know, six months from now and be commuting to Memphis, and so the pilots often don't move immediately.
Underlying that, regulations are in force that require the look- back as far as their airline duty is concerned. There is no reference that the pilot has a professional obligation to show up rested just like everyone else going to work.
SEN. DORGAN: Yeah. I'm a lot less interested in what regulations are enforced versus how regulations are enforced, and so I would ask this question. Mr. O'Brien, is it your sense that we have one level of safety as between commuters and trunk carriers these days?
MR. O'BRIEN: It certainly is -- (off mike) -- This certainly is a goal of --
SEN. DORGAN: I understand the goal.
MR. O'BRIEN: That everybody is aware of. The ability to obtain this goal is still being sought after very diligently; however, there's work to be done in this area.
SEN. O'BRIEN: Mr. Scoville, your impression.
MR. SCOVILLE: Mr. Chairman, I don't believe we do. One level of safety has become code within the aviation industry and amongst stakeholders to describe the move of regional air carriers from Part 135 regulation to Part 121 in 1995. You mentioned earlier that when an American gets aboard an aircraft in this country and had to buy a ticket and understands that that aircraft is subject to FAA regulation, he or she could reasonably think that the level of safety would be the same no matter what aircraft or what carrier. Yet, that's not entirely true.
SEN. DORGAN: If that's the case, Mr. Rosenker, it is, I assume, a fact that the major carriers in this country have an enormous stake in the records of commuters because they paint their airplanes with their colors and their name, and the consumers often aren't able to make a distinction or don't make a distinction whether they're on the commuter or the main carrier. Do you think that what has happened is we have migrated to two standards and if so, is that not contrary to the interest of the major carriers?
MR. ROSENKER: I don't believe, Mr. Chairman, we have migrated. What I do believe is, as the witnesses have indicated, we are looking to achieve one level of safety and that is a high level of safety. In fairness, about 50 percent, perhaps a little more, of the flights that are made are done by these commuter carriers. We want to make a safe industry and, overall, as you indicated in your introduction, we enjoy a very safe aviation industry in the United States.
The objective is to raise that even higher, not only with the regional carrier but the major carrier, as well. We just recently investigated two major air carrier accidents, one in December, one in January, where we lost the entire hull of the aircraft. Thank goodness, no one got hurt. Everyone got off. We are looking at one with our partners, our counterparts in France, right now where that outcome was not as successful.
SEN. DORGAN: My time is about up, but I want to say that I have read all that I can read about this particular accident in Buffalo, and I know that we put a magnifying glass on this and look at every part of it, but I was stunned, frankly, learning what I learned and I wondered, is this a complete anomaly? Is it just happenstance that in this cockpit at below 10,000 feet in significant icing conditions there was a discussion about careers and career choices and things that deal with I think one of you mentioned professionalism.
Clearly that was not what the requirements would be at that point and the amount of time and the equipment, the compensation paid to the pilot, the fatigue of potentially both, an inappropriate response to controls that gave them appropriate warning. I mean, a whole series of things and you look at that and you think this is a stunning set of failures. Is it just something that is Byzantine and unusual to that cockpit or is this a harbinger of something that is much broader and that we ought to be very concerned about?
And that's why, Mr. Babbitt, you assumed the reins of an agency that's very, very important, and you've flown these airplanes. I mean, you had a career as a pilot and we're going to rely on you in future hearings to help steer us to the right conclusions here, and I appreciate very much the work of the NTSB and we're going to have a lot of information from the Inspector General to be very helpful to us as we proceed.
So, let me thank all of the witnesses. Let me call on Senator Lautenberg.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. As we listen to the testimony and review the matters that got us to this point of concern and investigation, and we see that the captain of the Colgan flight had several test failures, I ask Mr. Babbitt, how many strikes put you out? Should there be a measure there that says, look, if we have to squeeze you through the test, what are you going to do when the pressure's on? And I think that there ought to be some finite limit that says, look, if you can't get through it in a couple of turns that you're not fit for this kind of a post. What do you think?
MR. BABBITT: Senator, it's an excellent question. Let me address it if you'd indulge me for a second. There's a couple of things to look at here. Number one, the regulations require and the carrier standards require training to a level of proficiency, and people are human.
They have a bad day and you could have a situation where a good pilot takes an excellent check ride. I've had situations in my own career, taking the check ride in parallel with someone and watch someone that I knew was a good pilot who didn't feel well, had no business taking the check; failed it. Is that, you know, grounds to terminate their career?
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Well, would NASA say if you want to go up in a shuttle that they give you a bunch of times to pass the test?
MR. BABBITT: Well
SEN. LAUTENBERG: I hope not.
MR. BABBITT: Following onto that, we would take that pilot, the particular element that they failed and you'd would train them to proficiency. I think there's another human aspect that we have to look at. If we had, whatever the number is, one strike, two strikes, three strikes and you're out, remember the check pilots. We're raising them to now management hire/fire decision authority. W
e have someone who's giving another pilot a check ride, just the training check pilot and now somebody else's career is in my hands. If I fail this pilot, that's the end of their career. My concern would be that you might have the wrong reaction, that someone instead of saying, look, you've busted this portion, go back, get trained, come back when you get this right, as opposed to, you know what, I'm not going to end his career. I'm going to let him pass.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Mr. Babbitt, I have great respect for you and the others at the table, but I would say this to you. I'd rather end his career than have my wife and my children on that airplane, I can tell you that. So I think, you know, these are things that we saw with the brilliance of Captain Sullinger -- (sic)
MR. BABBITT: Sullenberger.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: --who took that airplane down past my apartment building, by the way, on the way to the river. I wasn't home then, but, you know, how do we know that the react time, that the training is sufficient as the captain did on the United flight that saved over 150 lives.
MR. BABBITT: Mm-hmm. -- (In agreement.)--
SEN. LAUTENBERG: And the thing, I think that picture of them standing on that wing will go down in history as
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: -- an icon of what safety is about.
MR. BABBITT: Well, I wanted to add one other point. And your point is a good one, and I appreciate that, but there are mechanisms, and this is one of the reasons we're bringing everybody together. We have carriers today that have good practices, where they have training review boards and, you know, at the FAA you would look at two things. Is a particular pilot showing and/or exhibiting an excessive failure rate and is your training program -- maybe the training program itself.
SEN. DORGAN: I'd rather take a chance.
SEN. BABBITT: Well, we would, but what you have today is training review boards at some of the carriers, and I think what you're going to see us, you know, sort of begin to move toward is maybe everybody should be doing that. Maybe, you know, if one particular pilot is failing over and over again, that's not acceptable, and I think we do need to deal with that.
SEN. DORGAN: Yeah. Is there any concern about the population in the towers? You know, Newark, for instance, required 36 fully trained controllers in the tower. We have 26 or 27, seven of them are controllers in training. As we all know, we have a fantastic aviation system. We have lots of brilliant people doing things, but we don't have enough, and if you were to go into the operating room with a radiologist short, you wouldn't say that's good for the patient. And so, are we concerned enough, Mr. Administrator, that we have enough people to take care of the needs presently and the prospective retirements that are right in front of us?
MR. BABBITT: Appreciating that I'm relatively new on the job, I certainly have been looking into this. I will say that everyone starts a job somewhere as a rookie and the way that's handled, whether it's in the cockpit, every pilot makes a first flight and he has a training captain with him. Every controller at some point is going to pick up a microphone for the first time and control traffic and standing next to him is going to be a fully qualified controller watching him and mentoring him as he learns, but everybody has to start in the training program. So, yes, sir, there may be some times and some conditions where there is a training controller, but the provisions are there that there is always a fully trained controller with them or in the case of the cockpit
SEN. DORGAN: I don't want to put too much pressure on your learning curve in this short period of time, but that's a question I'll be asking you repeatedly until we get the answer I want.
MR. BABBITT: Hopefully, I'll be able to say yes, sir, they're all trained now.
SEN. DORGAN: A recent report suggested FAA ignored warnings in 2008 from one of its safety inspectors over the same type of airplane that crashed in Buffalo earlier this year. And it's also said that this inspector may have been retaliated against for raising these concerns. Now, once again, I know you're new there, but you're an experienced person with aviation. What would you recommend that we do to prevent intimidation of whistleblowers and blocking their points of view?
MR. BABBITT: Interestingly, I was, you might recall, a member of the IRT, which was a special committee appointed by former Secretary Peters, and we looked into some of these cases and what we found and that board, by the way, had a former chairman of the NTSB. We had a number of safety experts on that panel. We looked into this particular allegation. At the time it was simply an allegation about the conduct and the retaliation.
I was, you know, reasonably convinced as a member of the committee that the FAA took appropriate action. I wasn't with the FAA then. We were critiquing the FAA and it was pursued. It was pursued by the IG, and it seemed to us at the time that it was handled in accordance with what we should do. Having said that, I will tell you that I want to make sure that a number of those steps set forward in that report are followed, that we do actively pursue and make certain that no one is subject to retaliation or is ever inhibited from raising a safety question without fear of reprisal.
SEN. DORGAN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thank you. Senator Lautenberg. Thank you very much. Senator Isakson.
SEN. ISAKSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Babbitt, we have tremendous confidence in you, and I was very impressed with our meeting before your confirmation and appreciate your taking on this responsibility and you certainly have the record and the training to be a quality administrator of the FAA.
MR. BABBITT: Thank you, sir.
SEN. ISAKSON: My understanding is that FAA requires that all pilots have adequate rest before they fly. Is that correct?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. ISAKSON: And they're the ones that certify that, is that correct?
MR. BABBIT: Yes, sir.
SEN. ISAKSON: In the case of the flight that crashed, as I understand it, the pilot had commuted that day from Tampa, Florida, and had slept in a pilot lounge, and there was no record of an accommodation and that the copilot had flown from Seattle to Memphis to Newark before they flew, didn't fly as a pilot, but flew as a passenger, before they flew on the flight that ended up crashing in Buffalo. I think the chairman asked a veryhis graph there that showed the number of commuters commuting into Newark to then fly out, and from what I understand, being with Hartsfield in Atlanta, how many pilots commute to Atlanta and then take their flights.
Should there be some requirements on the time in the air, whether you're flying as a passenger to get to the flight that you're going to fly as a pilot or a copilot?
MR. BABBITT: I would make the observation that when we pull this industry group together, we might want to look at that. I will tell you from my own personal experienceI had over 20 years of line flying, and I commuted myself for five of those years, but I took it upon myself to go up the night before and get a good night's rest. Now I was flying for a major airline. Economic circumstances might be different, but the professionalism, and that's another reason why we're pulling people in, there seems to be some gap.
This type of thing doesn't go on at the major carriers, and I think the semantics herewe talk about one level of safety. There is, in fact, one standard of safety, and that's the federal regulations. However, we're seeing them at some levels, people far surpassing that with either their own inspired professionalism or their carrier. In the case of some of the carriers, they have remarkably good training programs, and that's what we're going to try to do is glean from that: is there better practices out there? Is there a better way?
Because currently all the regulations do is ensure that the pilot is rested when he's on duty. We have defined duty and we have defined required rest. When someone comes back from vacation, we don't know how much rest they got the day before they came in orbut that's true in every profession, so we've depended upon and perhaps, unfortunately, but we've depended upon the professionalism of the pilot to show up rested and ready for work, and he has an obligation to exercise the privileges of his airman certificate, or hers, that -- he's obligated to do that, and we need to make sure they take that seriously.
SEN. ISAKSON: Your answer on what you imposed on yourself was very responsible and I would venture to say it was probably partially ingrained in you in the corporate culture that you flew for and the corporation that you were in. Is that correct?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. ISAKSON: I don't want to make any indictment, but if you have two pilots in a plane that crashed, both of whom commuted within the same 24 hours to get to the flight that they then flew, it might not be, as the chairman said, an anomaly, but it could be a part of the corporate culture that, where there was a little less restrictive approach on the part of the corporation than might be true at another airline. Would that be a fair statement to make?
MR. BABBITT: Well, the professionalism certainly wasn't being pushed from the top down, and one of the things that we're going to have to look at, and when we talked I mentioned mentoring, you know, from the major carriers. I happen to know one carrier who is, if they don't already have they're about to have a requirement that everyone who provides capacity purchase service to them, meaning they're bringing their passengers, they have their logo on the tail of that carrier, they're going to require them to have a focal program, they're going to require them to have an ASAT program.
We're going to suggest they go a step further. We're going to suggest that they need their professionals, their seasoned safety folks, mentor some of these younger pilots. Let's face it, when an airline expands very rapidly it's not inconceivable that you have a pilot with two years sitting in the left seat and a pilot with six months in the right seat. How much mentoring is going on in that environment? You know, I think we have an obligation at the FAA and as a transportation system to make sure that they are getting that professionalism instilled in them.
SEN. ISAKSON: Mr. Rosenker, I understand one of the top six recommendations of NTSB is a requirement that all turboprop aircraft be hand flown during icing conditions. Is that correct?
MR. ROSENKER: It's something we've recommended, yes, sir.
SEN. ISAKSON: And, Mr. Babbitt, as I understand it, FAA has no requirement with regard to the use of the autopilot or hand flying in a turboprop during icing conditions?
MR. ROSENKER: I'm not aware. There may well be, but my newness here and prep for this hearing, I'm not aware of any requirement.
SEN. ISAKSON: I think in the transcript from the cockpit, as the chairman was referring to, there was a direct comment by the first officer that although she had 2,600 hours flying, but had never flown in icing conditions. I believe that's correct.
MR. ROSENKER: My understanding of reading some of that transcript anyway was that she had flown in icing conditions before. She was describing, however, that she did in fact have an early line experience, and she was describing that earlier experience, how it concerned her and she was actually looking to get more experience, appreciated building some time, and suggested that even if she could be promoted to captain, she wanted more time in the northeast before she would accept that.
SEN. ISAKSON: My time is running out, but when NTSB makes a recommendation, which they've made regarding icing conditions and turboprops, what does the FAA do? Do you have a response procedure that you go through or do you just take it or leave it, depending on what you think?
MR. ROSENKER: My understanding of the process today, and I'll let you know what I also added to that. We certainly evaluate every single one and I don't think, honestly, that there's an expectation on behalf of the NTSB that we should adopt every single one they make. I've actually had, you know, some discussions with former chairmen to that effect, what I have suggested I will do going forward. In my opinion, one of three things should happen to an NTSB recommendation to the FAA. Number one, we should either adopt it as they have suggested it. Number two, modify it, you know, because of some reason, reasonable or otherwise, and explain why, or, third, if we don't adopt it, I think we have an obligation to explain to the NTSB that the public why we didn't adopt it. What was the rationale that we didn't adopt it?
SEN. ISAKSON: I think that's exactly the right answer, and I appreciate your candor. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Isakson, thank you. I'm going to call on Senator Begich, but I just want to make two points relative to your questions. One, I went back and read the icing issues this morning in the transcript and the copilot, this is a quote from the transcript. "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any. I've never any experience into that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those calls. You know, I freaked out. I'd have, like, seen this much ice and thought, oh, my gosh, we're going to crash." If you read the several descriptions from the person in the cockpit about this, I think it does imply, at least, this person had minimum icing experience.
The other point I wanted to make that Senator Isakson asked you about, Mr. Babbitt, is when you traveled and commuted and got a full night's rest my guess is that someone that's making $20,000 or $22,000 traveling all the way across the country is not going to be paying rent on a hotel room or a crash pad to find a place to stay because they probably can't afford it. And so, I just want, you know, that's a very important issue that Senator Isakson was raising. I apologize to my colleagues (Off mike.)
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Begich.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I apologize to the panel. I'm going to have to leave after my questions, but for me this is not only an important discussion, my father perished in a plane crash, so I'm very familiar with the issues and the impact it can have on a family, so I appreciate you all here today.
You know, from Alaska's perspective, it is, you know, the small plane capital of the world. I mean, small planes are like vehicles. That's how we get around, and so as we think of safety issues we have to keep that in perspective especially in rural areas and how we deal with that, and so I am very aware of what that could be, an impact.
I want to follow up on a couple questions and it was intriguing to me as I was listening to the recommendations and, Mr. Babbitt, we've had some good conversations in regards to the FAA and your new role, and you kind of come in with a fire hose coming at you, but I want to make sure I understood what you said. And then I saw your body language, so I'm going to try to connect the two here.
I can't imagine you would make recommendations that you're not necessarily looking to have implemented, so I want to make sure I heard you right and that is, if the NTSB is making a recommendation my assumption is you want to see elements of those implemented, yes or no?
MR. BABBITT: That is correct, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: Because what I heard you say was not all of them are you looking to have implemented. I don't think you meant that, but I want to make sure I'm clear because as soon as you said that, I saw, I don't want to say recoil, but I saw movement and so, can you just clarify that and make sure we're on the same page here because otherwise they shouldn't make the recommendations if they're not going to be implemented.
MR. BABBITT: That's a valid clarification that you seek. I spent time, as I mentioned, for four months with this IRT, and on that IRT was the former chairman of the NTSB, Carl Vogt, and in our discussions we talked about this, that there are a number of recommendations and they're excellent. I mean, the NTSB does a great job and it's a great arm to help us enhance safety. But we heard a statistic that the FAA adapts somewhere in the range of 82, 85, some percentage, not all, and that's where you know the honorable former chairman vote said you know we have an obligation to report everything --
SEN. BEGICH: And that's what I wanted to make sure we were clear. That other 18, 15 percent is the question is what happened?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: And for -- not only for NTSB to know, but for the public to know why you didn't implement those --
MR. BABBITT: Precisely.
SEN. BEGICH: -- and is it, you know, what are the reasons and where do you go from there?
MR. BABBITT: And that was the point I tried to say, perhaps I didn't make it clear.
SEN. BEGICH: Well it's all recoil occur so I wanted to make sure --
MR. BABBITT: Yeah.
SEN. BEGICH: -- we're all clear here. But I want to make sure that your policy that you're going to implement, not look at but you're going to implement is that percentage that is not taking into as a full recommendation you're going to respond in some way that the NTSB can see that and the public can see why.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: And that will then obviously draw some other potential pathway.
MR. BABBITT: Right.
SEN. BEGICH: Maybe or maybe not, depends on what happens.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay. I want to, and I'm struggling the Chairman just said it again about the salary levels. I just struggle with this because I know in our state we pass and I don't want the regionals to start to call me after I make this comment so regionals who represent an audience please don't call me. But, you know, we had school bus driver incidents, quite a few, and we made a requirement of a certain pay level, a minimum pay level in order to ensure we had the quality and that they're not taking second jobs or third jobs or whatever it might be. It has had a very positive impact. Is that a discussion by anyone who wants to comment on this, and I'll start maybe with your Mr. Babbitt of discussion? Because $16,000 and just assume it's a full year pay is just barely above minimum wage.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir. I think the carrier did correct that minimum, it was about $23,000 if I recall.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay. So it's now instead of $7.69 an hour it's about $8.10 an hour?
MR. BABBITT: It might surprise you that there are major carriers who start pilots at that number. There are --
SEN. BEGICH: That does surprise me to be very frank with you.
MR. BABBITT: No, there are some that start considerably higher than that.
SEN. BEGICH: Sure.
MR. BABBITT: There are some major carries you know flying large airplanes under part 121 that start that low. This is an area I think you know Captain Sullenberger mentioned it in testimony before. It is a concern. I know that you know the era that I was hired in very badly dating myself into the '60s, but probably half of the people that were hired when I was hired as a pilot not only came out of the military, half of them came out of military academies. So we had a wonderful pool. Of course, the service at that time was training you know, we had 50,000 pilots flying in Vietnam. So we had a lot of veterans, we had a lot of very seasoned people that came with discipline and they were well trained, they were well educated they had other options so if you wanted a pilot like that, you were going to pay because they had other options, they could go be an engineer, they could go into another profession.
SEN. BEGICH: But it's an area of interest.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay. Anyone else want to comment on it, does that sound, does anyone disagree with that, that that's an area that has to be looked at? Mr. Scovel?
MR. SCOVEL: Senator, I will note that the committee has asked my office to examine pilot pay. It's an important factor as several members of the committee have pointed out as an influencer on the question of fatigue and also perhaps as a proxy for the question of experience and how that will relate to performance in a cockpit.
SEN. BEGICH: Let me --
MR. : I'm sorry.
SEN. BEGICH: Go ahead.
MR. ROSENKER: As we continue our investigation of the Coleman accident, facts will continue to be analyzed and we could end up with some form of recommendation dealing with fatigue that could also have relevance to low pay scales.
SEN. BEGICH: Compensation issues. Okay.
MR. O'BRIEN: Senator, if I may? If you refer back to our statement we submitted for the record, there's a copy of reference in there the Blue Ribbon panel report. This report was stimulated by hearings held by this committee back in 1990. That report covers preemployment requirements for airlines, it covers salary ranges for pilots, it covers what kind of basic training should be provided by the civilian flight schools because at that time the primary reason for the report was the committee's interest in why there was such a drain on military pilots.
So I think if we were to look at that report again we'll find that the 13 recommendations made by that particular panel speak directly to the issues that we're talking about today.
SEN. BEGICH: Very good.
MR. O'BRIEN: That was back in 1990.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much. And this I'll end on this my time has expired but I hope this is just a yes or no and that is for each one of you, I'll start Mr. Babbitt and I'll start with you, do you believe you have the necessary resources within the organizations you're working to do the job with regards to safety?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir, I do and having said that, we depend heavily on input from a number of the people here. We certainly respect what the IG has to say, we certainly respect what the NTSB has to say and with those tools together, yes sir.
SEN. BEGICH: Mr. Scovel?
MR. SCOVEL: Generally I would agree, certainly. The programs that FAA has in place properly implemented would allow it to exercise proper safety oversight.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay.
MR. SCOVEL: It's always a question of --
MR. SCOVEL: -- implementation versus the plan itself.
MR. ROSENKER: Sir the FAA is doing as good a job as it can possibly do. I believe these are well intentioned people, these people care about safety as much as any of us here do. But they have a lot to do. They have the objective and the mission of making sure that our aviation system is as safe as it possibly can be. And with that, it will take oversight, it will take new 21st century equipment and that comes with money and I'm not here to lobby on behalf of my colleague because I could use a little money for my organization at the same time.
SEN. BEGICH: So the answer is simply a little bit helps.
MR. ROSENKER: A lot would help these people yes sir.
SEN. BEGICH: And last question Mr. O'Brien --
MR. O'BRIEN: In spite of what administrative effort may have indicated I believe the FAA could do much more with a little bit more help.
SEN. BEGICH: Excellent. Thank you very much. Thank you for your testimony again. From a personal perspective thank you for everything you do to ensure our air safety and at the highest level possible. There's always room for improvement that's what we're here to do. Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Boxer.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Thank you so much Mr. Chairman for this important hearing and thank you all and good luck to you Administrator Babbitt.
I've had problems with the FAA and safety for so many years I can't even tell you, and it had nothing to do with if it was Republican president or a Democratic president, I just felt that the NTSB which is one of my hero agencies in government all my life, one of the agency that just tells the truth and they don't, they just come right out and say it that they have been ignored and ignored and ignored, it really gets to me and it's upsetting and I hope we'll have a change with this administration and if we don't have a change you will be hearing from me. I mean I want you to succeed but I think you need to be honest about what you need.
And if you, you know, I would ask Mr. Rosenker how many years have you been on the NTSB?
MR. ROSENKER: Six years, ma'am.
SEN. BOXER: Six, so you have a good background on it. It seems to me over the years there have been dozens and dozens and dozens of recommendations that have been ignored, am I correct by the FAA regardless of who is president?
MR. ROSENKER: 450 are outstanding today, many of which are more than 10 to 15 years old.
SEN. BOXER: Well it's an outrage. 400 and you know my friend Mark who suffered such a loss in his family, you know, he needs to hear this, 450 recommendations of the NTSB have been ignored by the FAA over the years.
That to me is an indictment of the FAA. It's not about anybody personally, it's the institution, it's the way they think and it's very disturbing to me. Now I want to pick up on a very disturbing transcript and I'm going to quote from the Buffalo News and I thank Senator Dorgan for his intense interest in this. Senator Snow and I had written a letter to the Honorable William Hood about this Buffalo accident. And as we read this, it just got to us and I'm going to share this article in part.
Capt. Marvin D. Renslow began the last hour of his life by engaging the autopilot on Continental Connection Flight 3407. He said "Autopilot's engaged." "Alright," replied his co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw. "It's probably a good thing," Renslow replied. Those words show both pilots highlighting their lack of experience. Renslow complained about the plane he was flying, and Shaw said she had never flown on an icy night.
In addition, the transcript shows Renslow and Shaw panicking once the plane lost control. While engaging in that idle banter in the last minutes of the flight, Renslow and Shaw stopped checking the plane's instruments and failed to realize that the plane was flying so slowly that it could stall.
But Flight 3407's troubles apparently began far earlier. Renslow might have been joking when he said that "it's probably a good thing" that the plane was on autopilot but in reality, it wasn't a joke. The safety board recommends that pilots turn off the autopilot and fly manually when icing could be an issue. A minute later, Renslow noted that he was hired by Colgan Air, which operated the flight, with just 625 hours of flying experience. "That's not much for, uh, back when you get hired," Shaw said. A moment later, Shaw complained of her own inexperience.
The crew then lowered the plane's flaps and landing gear, and the plane quickly encountered trouble. The plane's "stick shaker," a stall-warning device, activated at 10:16 p. m. for nearly seven seconds. A horn then sounds to signal that the autopilot was disconnecting. At that point, the safety board said, Renslow inappropriately pulled back on the plane's yoke, pushing its nose upward. That altered the airflow over the wings and sent the plane tumbling. And then a quote from Mr. Rosenker, acting chairman told reporters that Renslow and Shaw violated regulations banning extraneously conversation once a plane descends below 10,000 feet. "Clearly there were violations of the 'sterile cockpit' rules," which ban such conversations, he said. "Critical phases of flight need clear and direct focus. Without that, there is a risk of mistakes."
This is chilling, chilling to everyone. And if you have had a loved one on that plane, it's beyond chilling, it's unforgiveable it seems to me. So I want to get to the letter that Senator Snow and I sent to Secretary LaHood and we said some tough things, Mr. Babbitt and I want you to tell me if you think that we were too tough. I'm serious.
We're troubled by reports suggesting the FAA would talk to carriers about duty time, that's a direct quote, talk to carriers about duty time, this refers to this flight and pilot fatigue. The FAA we say must become a proactive agency and merely talking doesn't fulfill their primary mission to ensure the safety of the flying public. We can no longer afford to act after it is discovered that inspectors are overly friendly with the airlines they oversee, and we cannot continue to wait until another tragedy occurs before we implement improvements and training requirements much less simply enforcing existing regulations.
So I mean that's a tough charge. We are suggesting that there's too much coziness between the FAA and the airlines that they regulate.
Could you respond to that?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, Senator Boxer as I mentioned, I'm not sure if you were in here I was part of the internal review team that was set up by the Department of Transportation under Secretary Peters and we looked into this very charge. There was a question in both the American Airlines case and the Southwest case that the relationship had something to do. We certainly have reported a number of things in that report and findings and as I stated in this hearing and in that report, we'll follow up on that.
SEN. BOXER: But I'm not asking you specifically about this really, it is in the context of the crash, but it's in the institutional relationships here. It's in the culture and we need to hear that that culture must change. So talk to me about how you feel about this.
MR. BABBITT: Sure.
SEN. BOXER: Because you are, you've been around, my God you went into these aircraft and you had the passenger's safety on your back --
SEN. BOXER: --for all those years. If anybody can change the culture over there it's you. But can you tell me are you doing anything to change the culture?
MR. BABBITT: We're certainly trying. I've only been there I can --
SEN. BOXER I know.
MR. BABBITT: -- my tenure and my watch.
SEN. BOXER: I know, I know.
MR. BABBITT: But yes I want to --
SEN. BOXER: But I'm asking for a commitment that you will look into this charge that we may, Olympia and I, and get back to us on what you're finding and be honest like the NTSB is honest. Don't cover up anything because I'll tell you, you've got too much responsibility on your hands and we want to help you, that's the purpose of this. This isn't an inquisition here, we don't want to be back here on another day about another crash. Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you. Senator Klobuchar.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you so much Chairman Dorgan for chairing and to our witnesses many of whom Mr. Rosenker and I worked extensively on that 35 W bridge collapse and Mr. Scovel thank you. I was ironically working at the beginning of this hearing, having to get a speech done in honor of Paul Warfson (ph) he and his wife are posthumously getting a big award from the Mental Health Association and I had crossed out the part about their tragic plan accident that I thought is too negative so this award ceremony. As I sat here then listening I flipped over to what we were doing here thinking that their plane went down, it was a private plane but because of icing conditions as well as pilot issues that we're not that dissimilar to this with training and things like that. So it hit home to me.
My colleagues have done a great job of asking some good questions in the areas of fatigue and icing and other things so I thought I would just follow up with some of these ideas I'm trying to get at with the clear problem with the issues and training issues with these pilots. And one of the things that I though about a lot was that the regional carriers and Senator Dorgan and I both are in states where we have a lot of regional airlines and flights going, that they typically fly short high flights to hub airports and this means that regional pilots unlike their counterparts at the large carriers are more likely to fly many short flights, is that right Administrator Babbitt?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, it is.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And so they're instead of doing one long flight they're doing a bunch of short flights sometimes. And I would think that that could mean that they're more prone to fatigue or stress, that it's more difficult than --
MR. BABBITT: That's correct. One of the things that we're looking into, it's been a challenge of mine, I stated it in my confirmation hearing that we want to take a look at flight time and duty time. There's different types of being on duty 12 or 14 hours. There's the non-stop flight to Narita from Detroit, and there's the 12-stop flight never leaving the state of Michigan. And those are dramatically different environments, we have science, we have knowledge --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And so you're looking at potentially changing the regulations on rest requirements to reflect these different flying experiences --
MR. BABBITT: Yes.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: -- would that be a fair thing? Is that something you've recommended before?
MR. ROSENKER: Senator we have recommended that and we also want to close a loophole which enables a pilot to continue to fly his eight hours for example which is the legal amount during the day and then continue on in a part 91 or a ferry status where there's no passengers on the aircraft and they move it to a maintenance site which could be another hour or two or three away.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay.
MR. ROSENKER: We believe that needs to changed.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: All right. Then the second thing I was thinking about from common sense is that the pilots for the regional carriers are flying shorter distances and they're flying at lower altitudes and can that lead to worse, at least that's how I feel when I'm in a plane, it seems harder when you're down close. Is that right?
MR. BABBITT: Certainly you're exposed to more convective weather although I would note almost humorously that every airplane I ever flew was going to be the one that would clear all the weather and I've never gotten one yet that would so.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: So but just you have an argument that because they're on these shorter flights and they might have, be more, have to deal with this worse weather I'm just thinking it again goes to the training requirements that they may have to deal more often with more difficult situations if they're doing multiple flights that are lower altitudes?
MR. BABBITT: That's absolutely true and I think there's another thing we have to take into consideration and that's where you know the science comes in but again the focus of shooting a very tight instrument approach. If you're going to shoot an approach down to 200 foot minimums or something like that, there's a lot of focus in the cockpit. And if you're going to do that six or eight times in a duty period in an eight hour flying period, that's considerably more fatiguing than just making two or three flights and flying three hour legs. We need to address with science what is the right way to do this and it's been an open question in my opinion for way too long. I made it a challenge and a commitment and we will follow up on it.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. The other thing I was reading up on this and with the second copilot which was an issue in the private plane that flew, Paul Wellstone was the inexperience of the second pilot and in this case on this regional airline the first officer told the pilot I've never seen icing conditions, I've never deiced, I've never experienced any of that. And what we're heard that some industry experts say is that copilots or first officers basically can be an apprentice position on regional flights and that pilots only view these positions as short term assignments, a stepping stone for a job with a major carrier. I mean, if this is looked on with regional airlines with the number two position as something of a farm system for them to get to the major leagues, does that present some training challenges as well?
MR. BABBITT: Well I think it raises a good question for us to take a look at. And that's the difference in training, qualitative versus quantitative, you know there have been suggestions that maybe we should require more hours.
My suggestion would be we should perhaps look at the quality of the training that people are getting. To have 1,500 hours again, if that's, you know flying in the sack command you know 20 legs at a time, that's not a lot of experience for take offs and landings. Someone else with high quality training and must less time could in fact be a better trained pilot and that's one of the things we're going to try and glean from bringing this industry group together, to look at training and do we make a distinction? Should we make a distinction between the quality of the training that people are exposed to versus just you know an arbitrary measure of an amount of flying time? And I think that's a very legitimate question.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Does anyone want to add anything on the training --
MR. ROSENKER: I think Administrator Babbitt is right on target. It's not always about high numbers of hours. We have investigated unfortunately a number of accidents where we have seen 15,000 hour pilots make mistakes. The question again is is it quality, is it a performance standard based and are we getting the best people we possible can into this career so that they can do this safely and efficiently?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Mr. O'Brien?
MR. O'BRIEN: Just want to refer again the committee to the blue ribbon panel report. The interesting part of that report is it was stimulated by this committee, it does address all of these issues we're talking about, the panel was staffed by experts from the field, training, operating and so all of these issues have been addressed, specific recommendations were made that apply to the NTSB, the DOT, the FAA, industry in general and to Congress.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR All right. Here you go Mr. Scovel.
MR. SCOVEL: Senator I will note again that the committee has asked my office to investigate these matters. Training will be the first phase of our ongoing review.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I really appreciate that and I will also I know at another time Administrator Babbitt, Senator Snow and I have a bill focusing on some of the inspections and the relationship with the FAA that we hope to be included in the reauthorization and we can talk about that and the cooling off periods at another time. Thank you.
MR. SCOVEL: Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Klobuchar thank you very much. Senator Thune.
SEN. THUNE: Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you gentlemen for appearing before us today and I just have, I want to follow up with Mr. Rosenker if I can. In your testimony regarding the background of the pilot of the Colgan Air flight number 3407 you noted that I quote, the captain had a history of multiple FAA certificate disapprovals involving flight checks conducted before his employment with Colgan. The captain did not initially pass flight tests for the instrument flight rating in October 1991, the commercial pilot certificate May of 2002 and the multi engine certificate in April 2004. In each case with additional training, the captain subsequently passed a flight test and was issued the rating or certificate.
Now I recognizing that you know not every pilot's going to pass various flight tests on the first attempt. My question is what is the general pass/fail percentage when it comes to instrument flight ratings, commercial pilot certificates and multiengine certificates?
MR. ROSENKER: I can't give you the specific metric, perhaps the administrator would have a better idea of that. But one of the, before I turn it over to the administrator if that's okay with you Senator, one of the issues we're particularly concerned about is that the carrier themselves should have the ability when they are comparing new hires and candidates to say here is somebody who seems to demonstrate less than adequate proficiency over a period of time and here is another candidate that seems to be demonstrating much better proficiency, that's the individual I want to have in my airline.
As I indicated earlier in my testimony, we believe that some changes in PRIA could do much to improve that situation and then I'll give you the metrics Administrator Babbitt.
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir, as a rule of thumb, you know the carrier, the inspector, the principle operation inspector would be reviewing the training that's on-going at an airline. And if he began to see a failure rate, written tests and so forth in the 80 percent you know, if it got worse than 80 percent success, he would be talking to that carrier about revisions to their training process. So that's just a kind of a rule of thumb. This is written test, you know that means if they're getting 75s they're passing, but something's wrong here, they're not getting the training. We need to reevaluate the training of that particular carrier. And they need to reevaluate their training curriculum.
SEN. THUNE: But do you have, what is that, do you have a percentage, pass/fail percentage on each of those various tests?
MR. BABBITT: No the carriers each POI I would tell you from experience it's much higher than that. The past percentage is much higher than that. But that would set off an alarm. An inspector would say this is not acceptable. If the majority of your pilots are you know reflecting this in their testing, then your instruction technique is lacking and let's reevaluate it. You're not getting it to them, it's either not being presented to them properly, you know, there's something wrong. The format, the training techniques and something would be wrong and it would be reevaluated. Again I can tell you that in reality if you go out, if the inspector general did an audit, I think you'd find and I think he will find that those training numbers are considerably higher. They take this very seriously.
And I think it's worth noting too there's probably no profession out there that gets tested more than airline pilots. Typical captain, assuming he's just stable in one airplane is going to take two physicals a year, he's going to take three check rods, he's going to take one to test his proficiency, he's going to take another to test, it's actually a check ride and then he's going to have a third random line check where someone will just show up and ride with him unannounced.
So this is a lot of testing that goes on. The first officer has one physical and one check and an occasional line check. So they're certainly being well scrutinized and they're scrutinized by their peers with professional standards and other feedback mechanisms.
SEN. THUNE: Mr. Scovel.
MR. SCOVEL: Senator if I may just for a moment, Mr. Babbitt has referred to his service on the independent review team under then Secretary Peters. One of the findings of the team was that there was unambiguous commitment to the core mission of safety on part of FAA safety staff. And that has been my experience as well since the time I've been IG and observing FAA in action.
A follow on observation of the independent review team however was that there was quote, a remarkable degree of variation in regulatory ideologies among field office staff, which could result in wide variances and possible errors in regulatory decision making. In fact, there's no FAA standard referring to training failures that you described. Mr. Babbitt of course is correct when he says that FAA inspectors have a wide degree of latitude, they're expected to exercise significant judgment and discretion. So we will find from office to office, inspector to inspector, carrier to carrier, significant variations. Next phase of my office's review will explore those facts in more detail.
SEN. THUNE: Is it, my understanding is though that, and you talked about Mr. Rosenker about possible amendments to PRIA that PRIA does not require an airline to retain FAA records of failed flight checks and that the FAA does allow airlines the ability to have pilots sign a privacy waiver so that this information can be shared with prospective employers but that the FAA has said such a process would be time consuming and controversial and so I'm curious to know, it seems to me at least that that info being shared from a carrier to another perspective employer would be a very practical consideration and something that I wouldn't think would be overly time consuming and controversial.
MR. BABBITT: No I wouldn't disagree with you at all. The pilot records act allows and in fact requires that the hiring carrier do the look back. I think what this instance and these cases are shining a pretty bright light on is there is a gap to my knowledge and I will you know stand corrected and provide you the correction if I'm wrong, but I believe we have an advisory circular that suggests the carriers should ask for the pilot's FAA records. Now the pilot does because of privacy act restrictions, the pilot does have to ask a waiver. If I were hiring pilots and I asked you to give me a waiver so that I could look at your FAA certification actions of the past and your training and you denied, I think it would raise my eyebrows.
SEN. THUNE: Well it seems to me Mr. Chairman that maybe one part of any proposals to reform that statute would make sense so. Thank you. I thank you all very much for your --
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Thune thank you very much. Yeah, we did talk about that a bit earlier. I think we have to propose some legislation that fixes that.
Let me ask Mr. Babbitt if in fact the recommendation had been made, now you weren't there, but the NTSB had made the recommendation to the FAA, what two years ago?
MR. BABBITT: The recommendation was actually made a number of years ago. But an advisory circular came out, to their credit, which suggested that this can be done by having the waiver signed. We would like to see it --
SEN. DORGAN: We understand that you can go get a signature on a waiver form, but, but you had recommended, I believe, that the FAA do a rule making, and proceed to allow an easy access to the complete records of the pilot, just as they have easy access to the complete records of the airplane. Now, I guess Mr. Babbitt, I would ask the question, based on you knowledge of the culture of the FAA, why, a couple of years after that recommendation was made would the FAA not have initiated a rule making?
MR. BABBITT: To be honest with you, I can't answer that. I don't know why they didn't. I'll certainly look into it, and I'll certainly get the information back to you.
SEN. DORGAN: I mean, of all the issues here, the one that just is, just filled with common sense is, you had to know the same about the pilot that you know about the plane. The entire, the record from the day the guy, the person started flying. And yet we don't. And it is not as if we don't know that doesn't exist. The NTSB has said it does, and we should make it accessible to the airlines. And the, the captain, as you know, had failed, or had flight crew disapproval, so the private pilot instruments, excuse me, the private pilot instrument (check right ?) I assume it is, perhaps. Commercial pilot initial, the commercial multi engine, ATB Sub 340, and as a first officer the flight instruction initials.
So those must be the five failures. But the point is, that commuter airline that hired this captain did not know this information. They have indicated to us they did not, they were not aware of this. The other question is, Mr. Rosenker, you have stressed several times today that the investigation is not complete. I understand that. But having read a lot of what the NTSB has done and learned, it's pretty impressive to me, what is there that you yet have to learn? I mean, at this stage of the investigation it appears to me that you're well down the road. So what, what remains that you expect to learn?
MR. ROSENKER: Senator, Mr. Chairman, we actually only yesterday, the day before yesterday, would actually get into a simulator, where we could fly those same parameters (ph), those same patters, those same actions to understand more about the human performance factor and the aircraft performance factor. And there's analysis that's going on at this moment. But we literally sent a crew to that simulator, to enable us to understand more of what happened in that cockpit. So there is a good of analysis, which still must be done if we're going to cross every T and dot every I, and that's what we do in our investigation.
SEN. DORGAN: Why are you only able to get in the simulator in June?
MR. ROSENKER: Kind of, one, just finished a public hearing on this. We go through a process which in fact, takes us to various stages of an investigation.
SEN. DORGAN: I see.
MR. ROSENKER: So, in this particular time, it's when we could put everything that we had learned from our public hearing into what we needed to do and test in the simulator.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Scovel, thank you. Mr. Scovel, you mentioned something I think, that is likely not related to this particular issue, but may well be related, certainly is perhaps, related to safety. And that is the issue of outsourcing maintenance. Tell me again your testimony about that, and your judgment about it. And you, the reason I ask the question is, you, you suggested that the evidence is that there is a greater outsourcing of maintenance among commuters than the major carriers. Although the, what I have understood about major carriers is that an increasing amount of their maintenance is now outsourced.
MR. SCOVEL: You're correct, Mr. Chairman. Major carriers are outsourcing an increasing amount of all of their maintenance, whereas formerly they did it in house. Now they're looking to have it done by contract maintenance providers. Among regional carriers, our research shows that up to 50 percent of maintenance needed by regional carriers is now being outsourced.
My office has examined the outsource maintenance in 2003, 2005, 2008. A key finding of ours is that the new risk based safety oversight system for repair stations initiated by FAA in 2005, is currently ineffective in our judgment, due primarily to the fact that FAA has not yet got a handle on exactly what type of maintenance, how much maintenance, and where it's being conducted when it's being outsourced. And until it gathers that data, and is able to feed it into this risk based system, it won't be able to assign its inspector resources where it's needed.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Scovel, I, in a book I wrote, I described maintenance by one large carrier in this, one of the carriers, I should say, in this country, in which they would fly an empty 320 Airbus from the U.S. to El Salvador to do the maintenance, then fly an empty 320 back after it did the maintenance. Can you tell me what the equivalent standards are, or if standards are equivalent in terms of the FAA's ability to inspect a maintenance station in El Salvador, for example, versus outsourcing or contracting maintenance in Detroit or Chicago?
MR. SCOVEL: There are a number of factors that go into FAA's inspection of repair stations wherever they are located. So whether in the United States or overseas. If it's a certificated repair station, FAA has much wider latitude in order to go in and inspect. If it's non certificated, companies may still use it. FAA may still inspect, but it won't be by inspectors dedicated to the inspection of that facility. Rather, it will be by inspectors who are following airline's use of that facility, and they'll follow the aircraft into that repair facility in order to, to do their inspections as well. It results in a more tenuous inspection trail, if you will, sir. The conclusion of my office over the years has been really, that the key point is not where the outsource maintenance, where the maintenance is conducted, whether it's in the U.S. or overseas, not even whether it's certificated or non certificated, but the quality of FAA's oversight over the process.
SEN DORGAN: I'm perhaps going to ask you more about that at some other occasion. I know that you've done some work on it. And so, I'll be interested in evaluating that. Let me talk just for a moment, with all of you again about this issue of fatigue. Because I think fatigue likely played some role here in a crash that is prominently mentioned during this hearing. And let me put up again the, the chart that shows, let me just put it on an easel, perhaps.
And I want to especially ask Mr. Babbitt about that, because you say you commuted for five years. The one with the description of the committee. The map, the one with the map, all right? Thank you. That shows, and I again, this perhaps would show the same kind of thing for virtually any commuter airline that we would talk about, and perhaps the same map for any major trunk carrier.
Would most of you agree with that? And I think the question that remains in the minds of many, as you evidenced by the questions today from members of the committee, is, does this matter? Does it make a difference? And if several pilots are in Seattle or Portland or Los Angeles or wherever, and fly to the east coast to start their duty station and start their work, is fatigue something that we should be concerned about?
And Mr. Babbitt, you indicated that as a conscientious pilot, you would go early, you'd check into a motel or wherever, and you'd get your rest. And I understand that and applaud that. It is clear to me, however, that that's probably not likely going to be the case with someone who is a new hire that's making $23,000 a year to go find a place to rent. The reason I ask these questions is, I fly a lot on a lot of airlines. And I have sat next to a lot of, a lot of crew members who are flying to get to their duty station, in some cases very long distance.
Has this ever been discussed at the FAA? Has there ever been an effort to decide does this contribute to fatigue in a way that is significant enough to want to do more than just ask people, you're on your own. We're going to expect you to have adequate rest, and that's about all we can do. Is there something more than that that exists here? Because, and it starts with the question I asked at the front end of the of this hearing, was this circumstance and this conflict a complete anomaly, or is it referencing symptoms that we should be concerned about?
MR. BABBITT: Well I think the map (ph) you know, clearly is based on I'll assume some factual locations where people live. I wouldn't, I think what we're focused on here is people who didn't professionally deal with what, you know, they should have. In other words, they did not have the adequate rest that, you know, a professional would suspect they should. That doesn't mean that those people commuting, most of them weren't doing it the right way. They were coming in the night before. I don't know. We can't tell from that.
SEN. DORGAN: Isn't that the key? You don't know.
MR. BABBITT: We don't know.
SEN. DORGAN: We don't know. None of us knows. So that, I mean, that's the reason I asked the question.
MR. BABBITT: And different carriers have different methodologies. I know some of the cargo operations, they really don't care where you're based. They will actually buy you a hotel room. They expect you to come in the night before. And they'll pay for the hotel room. And that's a solution. They have looked at it. They don't want their pilot's fatigued. So that's a solution. And again, I want to go back to, that's exactly why we're bringing everybody in. If this is going on, and there are better ways to do it, we need to know about it. We need to know about it now.
SEN. DORGAN: And you're bringing them in Monday?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. DORGAN: Next Monday?
MR. BABBITT: Yes, sir.
SEN. DORGAN: You and I talked yesterday about that, and I, that makes a lot of sense to me too, because we should address the issue rather than ignore the issue. Mr. Rosenker, you've obviously been looking at this issue. Your reaction?
MR. ROSENKER: We have concerns about commuting. We want to make sure that both management and the pilots have a responsible outlook on how this can be done in a safe and efficient way. The reality of life is, these people are going to live where they wish to live. Many of these bases don't exist where they would like to live. And some of the bases are in very, very high, high economic cities, where in fact, it cost a fortune to try to buy a home or rent an apartment.
The business of, and the practice of commuting has been around since commercial aviation. Pilots are allowed to pretty much get inexpensive if not free transport any time they wish. So, we realize this is a fact of life. And what we are trying to strive for is the most safe way we can get there. Because we can't ignore it. But we've made recommendations to the FAA concerning fatigue. Fatigue is a very insidious condition. And many times, people don't even know they're fatigued until unfortunately, it's too late. So we're hoping that the FAA will be taking our recommendations and incorporating them into some regulations. And we believe that if implemented, it will go a long way to reducing the insidious effects of --
SEN. DORGAN: What percent of the commercial airline flights in our country are by commuter carriers?
MR. ROSENKER: About fifty percent of the flights representing about twenty percent of the passengers.
SEN. DORGAN: Okay. Fifty percent of the flights by commuters. Do you have data that's accessible with respect to accidents in the last ten years, commuters versus major carriers?
MR. ROSENKER: I don't have that handy. We could get that if you wish, and --
SEN. DORGAN: The reason I ask the question is, my understanding is, my understanding is that somewhere around seven out of their most recent nine accidents were accidents with commuter carriers. Is that, does that sound reasonable to you?
MR. ROSENKER: That may not be including the three accidents that we are investigating right now, which include the Hudson River, which include a Denver 737 Continental.
SEN. DORGAN: Right.
MR. ROSENKER: These were not fatal. But they were major air carrier, major hall loss, and of course now the Air France, that we are participating with the, the French authorities.
SEN. DORGAN: And we should say that we are discussing this through the lens of a tragedy, and understand always that that's the case. And the tragedy existed in the cockpit as well. I mean, in some ways I feel bad about talking to, to two people who flew that airplane, who can't represent themselves. And yet, we're very concerned. All of us are very concerned about what happened, what could have been done differently, and how do we make certain that others who board airplanes understand that the things that we can learn from this crash will be implemented.
Mr. Babbitt, one final question. You will, no doubt, appear before this committee many, many times. I understand that when you are asked whether you have sufficient funding at the FAA, I believe most witnesses are instructed to support whatever the President's budget request is. The last person I recall who came to the congress, one of the committees that I was on, in fact, and said the President's budget request is far inferior and far short of what is needed for his agency, was fired the next morning, publicly, in a great show of strength. So, I understand you must say that you have all the money you need, and yet a couple of the witnesses have suggested that you might well need some additional funding to implement, assuming that you have the will and the agency has the will to implement the things that are necessary, and to enforce what is necessary to enforce. So, we'll talk when you don't have a microphone in front of you --
MR. BABBITT: All right, sir.
SEN. DORGAN: About those issues. But, but I do say that when you come back here, I'm going to ask the same question after you've had a couple of weeks, have you begun a rule making on that which the NTSB suggest? There's no excuse, in my judgment, for the FAA to wait another month to begin a rule making to make certain that all the records of a pilot are available immediately and now to a potential employer of that pilot. That ought to happen now. And I will ask you the next time you're here, whether the rule making has started. And I hope you will consider that a priority.
MR. BABBITT: If you don't invite me back for at least a week, the answer is yes, sir.
SEN. DORGAN: All right. Thank you very much. Let me thank the four of you for appearing. As I indicated, next week we will have a discussion with the airlines, and some other witnesses in addition to the airlines. This is, as I said, a serious subject in many ways. As is probably always the case, these subjects are most aggressively and often discussed when they are born of tragedy, and our heart goes out to those who are involved in the tragedy, and those who love them. And we just hope that through these discussions, we will make progress in protecting others.
And I want to end it the way I started this, to say that we have an unbelievable safety record in this country with air travel. But that ought not suggest any of us sit on our laurels. I know enough from having studied this, that there are a lot of recommendations out there that are not yet implemented. And I don't want the next airplane tragedy to be one in which we discussed a recommendation that we knew about, but it was never implemented. We can do a lot better than that, and should. And at least my stewardship of this subcommittee is going to be push, to push and push very hard to implement that which we know can save lives. Thank you very much for (this hearing ?). This hearing is adjourned.