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Advocacy improved Pilot Records Database rule

As the activation date for the modernized Pilot Records Database (PRD) nears, aviation organizations await the FAA’s publication of an advisory circular being prepared to fill in many details of the PRD’s compliance requirements.  

“Based on further review of the final rule, it appears that advocacy by AOPA and other stakeholders has brought increased transparency, accuracy, and safety to the launch of the PRD without overburdening pilots and sole-practitioner operators with unreasonable costs and administrative obligations,” said Christopher Cooper, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs.

To recap, the PRD rule requires air carriers and other operators to report their pilots’ employment history, training, and qualifications in the new electronic database, and mandates that operators seeking to hire pilots review applicants’ records in the database.

Eight types of information about staff pilots and prospective hires must be reported as outlined in the rule. Entities subject to the rule include Part 119 air carriers and commercial operators, fractional ownership programs, holders of letters of authorization to conduct air tour operations under FAR 91.147, corporate flight departments, and governmental units that conduct “public aircraft operations.”

The goal of the PRD, spurred in part by the February 12, 2009, fatal crash of an air carrier Bombardier DHC–8-400 on an instrument approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York, was a system-modernization effort to help flag pilots with spotty safety and training histories.

“The FAA envisions that the PRD not only will be an indicator of pilots’ abilities or deficiencies, but also that it will prompt conversations between applicants and hiring employers. PRD is intended to help ensure that no records about a pilot’s performance with previous employers that could influence a future employer’s decision go unidentified,” the rule says.

Throughout the rulemaking process, AOPA and other industry groups actively kept several areas of concern for general aviation on the FAA’s radar. The outcome, as the agency outlined in the final rule, appears responsive in providing relief—however, we will continue to evaluate the provisions as implementation proceeds.

  • One area of stakeholders’ concern was to ensure that the rule include a process for pilots to report errors in their data files and request corrections. In a lengthy discussion of the concerns of AOPA and other commenters, the FAA demurred on accepting responsibility for verifying the accuracy of submitted data but noted that “a reporting entity is obligated to correct any information that the employer confirms is inaccurate. If a pilot can demonstrate to the reporting entity that the information it entered in the database is inaccurate, the reporting entity must correct the information. Any abuse of the PRD by a reporting entity through the misreporting of information about a pilot would be both a regulatory and statutory violation and of great concern to the FAA.”
  • The FAA also responded to objections from AOPA and numerous other stakeholders to the potential of the original rule to overwhelm many small or relatively inactive operators with its reporting requirements. The FAA conceded that point, agreeing that “some requirements of the proposed rule were overly burdensome” for public aircraft operations, air tour operations, and corporate flight departments—a group in which pilots typically do not change jobs frequently—and reducing their reporting burden by making their reports mandatory only when a pilot record is requested. (See Section V.C.4 of the rule for a detailed discussion.)
  • Given the aviation community’s concerns about compliance costs, many opposed the user fee that had been included in the original PRD proposal for gaining access to the database and was projected according to an FAA-devised formula as $110 in fiscal year 2020. The fee has been dropped—for now. However, “the FAA will continue to evaluate the cost of the PRD and may revisit this determination at a later time,” the rule notes.
  • To ensure consistency with existing FAA protections, the PRD may not include any records reported under an Aviation Safety Action Program or other approved voluntary safety reporting program. However, records the FAA does not consider protected “are still subject to reporting.”

In formal comments on the PRD proposal in June 2020, AOPA had underlined the importance of keeping safety reporting inviolate, noting that events that bring safety concerns to light “might otherwise go unreported, and it is critical that the protections in place for voluntary safety reporting systems are not undermined” by the database.

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