The union said that neither airlines nor regulators in the US and Canada have "kept pace" in terms of pilot qualification requirements and training oversight. "Today's archaic regulations allow airlines to hire low-experience pilots into the right seat of high-speed, complex, swept-wing jet aircraft in what amounts to on-the-job training with paying passengers on board," ALPA said. "Investigations of recent accidents reveal that safety margins have been eroded at some carriers as a result. A complete overhaul of pilot selection and training methods is needed."

FAA is in the process of reviewing an Aviation Rulemaking Committee's Sept. 1 recommendations on pilot fatigue and shortly will issue a new flight/duty-time rule that Administrator Randy Babbitt has said will reflect the latest scientific research on the issue (ATW, August). But members of Congress, ALPA and others are pushing for new legislation that also would revamp regulations for hiring and training pilots as well as sharing pilot records.

House aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.)said at a hearing last week that Congress and FAA need to "closely examine the regulations regarding pilot training." Babbitt has ordered FAA investigators to review pilot training programs at all airlines and said last week he is considering issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on hiring/training. He told Congress that he will use his "bully pulpit" to push carriers and unions to do a better job of developing and enforcing "professional standards" for pilots and more extensively sharing pilot records.

While all carriers do follow basic regulations for hiring and training pilots, Babbitt said that "unfortunately, while the regulations are the same, the mentality is not the same" across the industry. He explained that he is pushing mainline airlines to mandate hiring and training standards for regional carriers that operate much of their domestic schedule. Prater told lawmakers that "codeshare and fee-for-departure agreements mean that mainline carriers exert enormous pressure on regional airlines to operate as cheaply as possible. . .Airlines outsource their routes to the lowest bidder."

US Air Transport Assn. President and CEO James May testified that mainline carriers "highly value their relationships with regional airlines" but emphasized that "the bedrock principle in civil aviation is that the entity to which the FAA has issued a certificate is solely responsible for its activities . . .That principle avoids any confusion about ultimate responsibility, an absolutely essential consideration in promoting safety. . .As separate regulated entities, regionals are independent of mainline airlines."

ALPA warned in its white paper that with regionals now flying around 50% of US domestic flights, it is increasingly common for "low-experience" pilots to be flying regional aircraft: "Flying today's complex airline aircraft in very congested and complicated airspace is a challenging undertaking by even experienced pilots. . .Low-experience pilots are hired by some airlines and expected to operate in these conditions without the benefit of learning the art of airmanship and gaining experience under the tutelage of veteran pilots over a protracted period as was historically the case. Not surprisingly, these pilots, who perform as well as their experience, knowledge, and skills will permit, often exhibit deficiencies. . .[that] ultimately impact safety."

Costello has introduced the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act, proposed legislation that would require FAA to issue a rule "mandating that air carriers establish remedial training programs for flight crewmembers who have demonstrated performance deficiencies or experienced failures in the training."

The bill, which has bipartisan backing, additionally would force carriers to establish a "pilot mentoring program" and "modify training to accommodate new-hire pilots with different levels and types of flight experience and provide leadership and command training to pilots in command." It further would create a "Pilot Records Database" that would give carriers electronic access to "a pilot's comprehensive record," including information on a pilot's licenses, aircraft ratings, check rides, official notices of disapproval and other flight proficiency tests he or she has passed or failed. Under the legislation, mainline airlines would be forced to disclose on the front page of their websites which carrier is operating each segment of a flight for which they are selling tickets.

Regional Airline Assn. President Roger Cohen said his organization's members back establishment of "a single database of pilot records to be maintained by the FAA to enable airlines to access critical, real-time information" about pilots' records, complaining that today, "it takes weeks if not months to access" details on prospective pilots carriers are considering for hire. RAA also favors extending the background check timeframe "to the last 10 years of a pilot's flying record." Current law only allows airlines to review the last five years of such records. Cohen also recommended that Congress/FAA mandate a "more detailed analysis of check rides over the entirety of a pilot's career" so airlines are able "to ensure all pilots are up to par."