Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Federal Aviation Administration Sets Standards for Safety-Data Analysis by Carriers • Rule Seeks Complementary Safety-Data Collection and Analysis Across U.S. Airlines

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor

Updated Jan. 7, 2015 2:46 p.m. ET

Federal aviation regulators on Wednesday set out industrywide standards for airline safety-data analysis programs, calling such steps the key to reaching the “next level of safety” for U.S. carriers.

The final rule issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, in the works since 2010, establishes criteria for proactive efforts to identify and reduce hazards before they cause accidents. Nearly all scheduled U.S. cargo and passenger airlines already are heading down this path, with the biggest carriers relying on sophisticated risk-mitigation systems that collect voluntary incidents reports, cull data from routine operations and then target areas for safety improvement.

But now, airlines will have to demonstrate that details of their individual safety-management systems comply with the FAA’s principles and guidelines, and that findings from the data can be shared across the industry. Initial plans must be submitted by the middle of 2015, and final versions must be in place by 2018.

The FAA rules don’t apply to charter or on-demand operators, and they don’t cover any maintenance facilities.

Illustrating the difficulty of quantifying benefits from the rule, the FAA estimated industry compliance costs at $135 million through 2023. That compares with a range of $104 million to $241 million that the FAA projects will be the overall benefits from avoiding accidents or incidents.

“We’re not telling airlines how to meet this requirement,” FAA chief Michael Huerta told reporters, but the goal is to foster a strong safety culture focused on getting ahead of accidents. Airlines will have to designate a single executive responsible for overseeing the programs.

Unlike other major FAA regulatory moves that sometime prompt criticism and even legal challenges by industry players, the head of the leading airline trade group participated in Wednesday’s news conference and announced his support. Nicholas Calio, chief executive of Airlines for America, or A4A, which represents the country’s largest carriers, said the intent of the rules “are not new to our members.”

The association representing the nation’s regional carriers also announced its “strong support” for the rules.

In 2010, Congress passed legislation giving the FAA a July 2012 deadline for adopting a final rule. International safety standards also call for countries to issue rules establishing safety management systems.

In addition to setting up formal procedures to gauge and reduce risks, the rules call for airlines to promote safety to employees. According to the FAA, 59 carriers that already have been voluntary reporting programs for pilots and other employees are expected to expand them. Some 50 other carriers are expected to use government-supplied computer systems to start processing voluntary reports.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters that he considers the FAA’s rules a linchpin for enhancing safety in other modes of transportation.

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