A Safety Centered FAA Reauthorization

By Capt. Tim Canoll

Even safer skies for airline passengers and air cargo shippers. That’s what the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization passed by the U.S. Senate (H.R. 636) means for air transportation in this country. While ALPA will continue to press Congress to do more to combat safety risks, such as inadequately regulated lithium battery shipments and fatigue among pilots who fly cargo, this Senate reauthorization is encouraging.

Significantly, the Senate reauthorization maintains the current safety-based first officer qualification and flight experience regulations. In 2010, Congress called for improved requirements following investigations of several fatal airline accidents, and our country hasn’t seen a fatal commercial passenger aircraft accident attributed to inadequate pilot qualifications or training since they took effect. What more proof is needed of the resounding importance of these safety-focused standards?

The Senate bill, while not going as far as ALPA wanted, also improves the safety of transporting lithium batteries by air. Lithium batteries pose a significant safety threat to air transportation because they can self-ignite when damaged, defective, or exposed to a heat source, and they cannot be extinguished by current on-board fire-suppression systems. The Senate FAA reauthorization requires full harmonization of U.S. regulations with the recently modified International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions.

The ICAO technical instructions temporarily ban all lithium-ion batteries from being carried as cargo on passenger aircraft until appropriate shipping standards are developed. Further, all lithium-ion batteries carried on all-cargo flights are limited to a maximum 30-percent charge, and the instructions prohibit “overpacks,” a loophole whereby an unlimited number of packages of batteries could be shipped together in the same box to circumvent dangerous goods regulations. While more needs to be done, these important changes help protect air transportation from a serious threat.

Aviation security is also improved with the Senate measure because it mandates physically installed secondary batteries on all newly manufactured commercial passenger aircraft. Secondary cockpit barriers are a common-sense solution to enhance aviation security.

Unfortunately, an ALPA-supported effort to require science-based fatigue regulations for all-cargo operations was not adopted in the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization. ALPA’s long history of advancing one level of safety across the airline industry demands that we continue to seek the requirement—a pilot is a pilot, regardless of whether he or she carries passengers or freight in the aircraft.

Overall, this strong Senate bill sets the stage for enhancing the safety of air transportation in the United States—a goal that anyone who flies or ships by air will share.

Categories: Safety


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