Tag Archives: crewmember training records

Checking Your Check Airman

I hope I’m not about to ruin your post-holiday weekend euphoria and the short work week ahead, but September provides one last opportunity for Part 135 operators to avoid a major FAA compliance pitfall. Back in February the FAA published a policy notice that impacts any Part 135 operator that uses contract instructors and/or check airman.

As you might recall, a contract instructor or contract check airman providing services for a Part 135 operator must have completed at least one Part 135 air carrier’s initial training and qualification curriculum as a flight crew member. In February, the FAA required all Part 135 operators that use contract check instructors or check airman to conduct a records review of each individual used in these capacities.

Let’s be clear about the requirement: If you are a Part 135 air carrier and you use contract instructors and/or contract check airman, YOU must review each contract instructor and check airman’s training records to ensure they have received initial training from at least one Part 135 air carrier. The deadline was extended to September 30, 2013, to give air carriers a fair shot at complying with the requirement, but depending on how many contract instructors and contract check airman you use, this is still a heavy lift.

The FAA doesn’t seem to be fooling around on this one. There are a few nuances in the policy notice that sound rather ominous:

1. Notarized affidavit: If you are unable to obtain records for any reason, both the contract instructor/check airman and the requesting air carrier (you) must sign and have notarized an affidavit attesting to your attempt to obtain records. There’s no “Scout’s honor” clause – the FAA wants a notarized affidavit.

2. Return LOAs: If you are unable to confirm an instructor or check airman’s training before September 30, 2013, that instructor or check airman will be considered unqualified to provide your training or checking. You will be required to return that individual’s Letter of Authorization (LOA) to the FAA.

3. “Appropriate action”: “If, after [September 30, 2013], the POI finds that the air carrier or program manager has utilized unqualified contract instructors or contract check airman, the POI must take appropriate action.” Here the policy notice is referring to the POI rescinding the individual’s LOA, but there could be more significant “appropriate action”. Any training received from an instructor or check airman who is not technically qualified could be deemed noncompliant. Every Part 135 flight conducted by a pilot who was trained or checked by an unqualified instructor or check airman could be considered a regulatory violation. (I know this is a worst-case scenario, but I just can’t shake the feeling that some people in the FAA are looking to set an example to prove the agency is serious about these training issues.)

4. False statements: The FAA also used this policy notice as an opportunity to remind contract instructors and contract check airmen that providing fraudulent or false statements to the FAA could result in a fine, imprisonment, and/or certificate action. (Does the agency anticipate the industry will lie about this? To my knowledge, this isn’t standard policy notice and I twitched a bit when I got to this section. It’s not often the agency so deliberately calls out a “reminder” like this.)

Have you reviewed your contract instructor and contract check airman records?

Please don’t believe that the Part 142 training centers have everything wrapped up with a pretty bow for you and all you need to do is log on to their web portal on September 29 to check it out. The training centers might be right on the ball on this issue but it’s not their responsibility – it’s yours, the Part 135 certificate holder’s. And if there is an error or oversight with a contract instructor or contract check airman your organization uses, the liability is yours.

If you haven’t started reviewing your contract instructor and check airman records, DON’T DELAY. September 30 will be here before you know it.

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Basic Training for 135 Employees

How much training do you provide for your employees? Every Part 135 charter operator, depending on its operations, is required by regulation to provide pilots with company- and aircraft-specific ground training, simulator or aircraft flight training, emergency training, hazmat training, international training, security training… The list of training requirements for pilots is seemingly endless but training needs for non-pilots aren’t specifically addressed in the regulations.

Industry best practices now encourage Part 135 operators to provide all employees with training related to the operator’s safety program, emergency response procedures, and job-specific training. I think that’s a great start – but it’s not enough.

What industry did your accounting employees come from? Do you think they have any idea what “Part 135” means? Let’s look at a few different positions that could benefit from a general understanding of Part 135 regulations, the company’s responsibilities to the FAA, and the potential ramifications of inadvertent or intentional violations. When the FAA was at the height of the operational control and A008 hysteria, it wasn’t uncommon for inspectors to interview non-flight related staff, like sales personnel or accounting staff, and in some cases, these helpful but untrained individuals created problems for the air carrier.

Flight Coordinator/Controller/Scheduler: A charter operator hires a flight coordinator from the local flight school, where the individual was scheduling instructors, students, and aircraft. The flight coordinator, being the new kid, draws the short straw for night and weekend on-call duties and receives a late Saturday night phone call from an FBO where a company airplane is overnighting. The FBO – which is also a repair station – happened to notice the airplane has a flat tire and wants to know if they should fix it so the airplane is ready for the next day. Newbie flight coordinator, thinking he/she is being proactive and helpful, tells the FBO to go ahead and fix the tire. Why? Because the flight coordinator has never received training on the importance of ALL maintenance on a Part 135 aircraft being conducted under the air carrier’s maintenance program. He/she didn’t know how critical it is to coordinate maintenance functions with the Director of Maintenance or a designee, regardless of the seemingly minor nature of the repair or time of day.

Sales Staff: How many times has your sales staff sold a trip into an airport with a runway too short for the intended airplane? This is particularly confusing to untrained staff if that airplane goes into that airport frequently under Part 91. Has your sales staff failed to advise a client of restrictions on firearms? Or sold a trip that will exceed a crew’s duty period? A clear introduction to Part 135 requirements and comparison with Part 91 rules can help sales staff understand the limitations of Part 135 – and help you to avoid frustrating or losing a client!

Accounting Staff: Some people question the need for an individual responsible for accounts receivable to know what “Part 135” or “operational control” means. While it’s not necessary for the individual to have a PhD in all Part 135 issues, it sure helps to have a general understanding of why Aircraft Owner A flies everything Part 135 and must be billed federal excise taxes but Aircraft Owner B flies all fights under Part 91 and doesn’t pay FET.

Reception and Line Staff: Certainly these individuals don’t need lengthy and detailed training in Part 135 requirements, but some basic training can be helpful to understanding their responsibilities within the company. Most importantly, a general understanding of Part 135 requirements and the FAA’s authority over the company can help a receptionist or line personnel to properly answer, “Hi! I’m Inspector Gadget from the FAA and I’m here to help!” (Of course the correct answer is a very courteous, “Hello! Let me introduce you to our [Director of Operations / Chief Pilot / Director of Maintenance / Agent for Service].”) But first your receptionist or line personnel must know WHO those individuals are (does your line staff know who your company’s Agent for Service is?) and must know that seemingly friendly chats with federal inspectors can lead to trouble for the company if the company representative “guesses” or misspeaks.

Director of Operations / Chief Pilot / Director of Maintenance: Part 119 lays out the requirements and qualifications for these management personnel, but the regulations allow for experience in Part 121 or 135. If you hire a furloughed airline pilot to serve as your chief pilot, are you sure he/she understands the intricacies of Part 135? Your new chief pilot might be very experienced and highly intelligent, but think about it – most 121 pilots forget how to get weather reports or NOTAMs because “dispatch does that”. Don’t you want these folks – ESPECIALLY these folks – to understand how Part 135 differs from other regulatory structures?

I recently developed a training module for a client who realized a basic introduction to Part 135 regulations is a helpful addition to their existing training. This training is required of ALL employees, not just pilots or flight controllers or maintenance personnel.  The training is customized it to include their company-specific policies and procedures and I have delivered the training in person to a number of their employees. The client will soon have a trained individual to conduct future sessions in-house. Do you provide your employees with enough basic training to fully understand their roles and responsibilities within the company? Consider adding a “Basic 135” training module to your curriculum. Training doesn’t have to be complicated, lengthy, or expensive, and a properly trained staff can save you considerably – in time, money, and headaches!

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Crewmember Records: Low Hanging Fruit

This post is the third in a series about common errors or concerns I see while conducting safety and operational audits. The first and second posts are linked here: “Internal Evaluation Programs: Headache or Helpful Tool?” and “Managing Flying Managers”. (Incidentally, will you be at the NATA Air Charter Summit in DC next week? I’ll be there presenting “Regulatory Adventures from the Field”. If you don’t attend, you’re not only missing my witty banter but also a really great conference. It’s not too late to register and join us for networking, education, and FUN!)

Let’s have a frank discussion (the only kind I know how to have) about crewmember records. Training records should really be a no-brainer, yet many audit findings are based on training record deficiencies. Are your records in order or are pages falling out of the folder or binder haphazardly? Are the files all organized in the same fashion or does someone just stick a page in the folder on occasion? Do you have duty assignment records in each pilot folder or does an auditor or inspector get to guess the pilot’s aircraft and position assignment?

Duty Assignment Records

One of the very first pages of your pilot crew files should be a duty assignment record. Duty assignment records are not just a “Lindsey thinks it’s a good idea” item. I believe they’re a regulatory requirement. See 135.63(a)(4)(iv), which states you must keep an “individual record” of “the pilot’s current duties and the date of the pilot’s assignment to those duties”. The duty assignment record should list the pilot’s current duties, including aircraft type / position assignment, and the date of assignment. (I recommend keeping historical assignment data as well if the pilot has flown more than one aircraft type and/or position for your company.) I’m often given a FOS or other scheduling software print out report of duty assignments. Aside from the fact these print outs are usually out of date or otherwise inaccurate, I don’t believe this is really the intent of the regulation. I believe the regulation means for EACH pilot file to have a duty assignment sheet.

Further, the duty assignment information is an absolutely critical piece of information and DESERVES to be front and center in each pilot’s file. It shows an auditor (or FAA inspector) how far back to look that this pilot was qualified in this aircraft. It helps the auditor determine if Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA) requirements and drug testing were completed at the appropriate time. It also tells an auditor not to bust your chops if the pilot doesn’t have a 135.299 check because they know from the sheet that he’s an SIC and isn’t required to have one, or to know that a pilot once flew the Hawker 800 but has since been assigned to a different aircraft so not to bother looking for Hawker currency. Help me, help you. Have clear, concise duty assignment records.

Archived Records

“Archived” records are another issue. You must be able to show current compliance (so keep the most the recent training records and 8710s), one round of preceding training records and 8710, and initial compliance (first training in the aircraft for your company). So if a pilot did a recurrent in 2013, keep 2013, 2012, and initial in the main pilot file. If he’s been with you in the same aircraft since 1980, feel free to put the interim files in an archive somewhere. If you’ve hired a pilot who flew the same aircraft with another company, ideally you’ll have his/her initial type rating and other training records from the previous employer. However, we all know PRIA isn’t perfect. (Holy Toledo – it’s not?) Operators fail to respond. The previous employer could be a Part 91 operator and therefore not required to keep extremely detailed training records. The previous employer could be out of business. The previous employer could just be a loser who didn’t respond appropriately. In any case, you should have the pilot’s initial type rating and other training records to verify the pilot’s previous experience, but at the very least, make sure you have the pilot’s records of initial training with YOUR company.

It’s not surprising that operators often struggle with these records. Most operators don’t have a very structured process for ensuring compliance with these requirements. Training records are received or downloaded from training centers weeks after the training was completed. Records for in-house training lack detail, aren’t signed, or are missing completion dates and times. Schedulers or flight followers rely on data from scheduling software to verify compliance with training requirements but don’t know how that information was entered into the software, where it came from, or who is responsible for upkeep. If you don’t have a defined, structured process for managing training records, you should. There’s really no excuse for not maintaining these records properly and it’s a very easy area for an FAA inspector to pile on findings during an inspection – or worse – investigation. Pilot records violations can cost your company thousands of dollars in civil penalties or be used to support certificate enforcement action against your operation. In other words, don’t leave low hanging fruit.

What do your training records look like? Do you have accurate duty assignment records in each file? If an auditor or inspector wants to verify a pilot’s compliance with training requirements, is the trail easy to follow or are your records a mess with most information archived in a basement? Do you have a documented process for maintaining and auditing your training records?

I have worked with many air charter operators to improve their training records and develop processes for maintaining and auditing those records. This is one of those tasks that appears to be a paperwork shuffle but could really save your tail in the event of a critical FAA inspection. The process of cleaning up records and establishing a process to keep these records isn’t exactly a weekend at the beach but it’s not impossible with some objective assistance. Do you need advice on how to manage these important compliance documents? No need to reinvent the wheel. Contact me at Lindsey@mcfarrenaviation.com or by phone at 703-445-2450 and we can talk about your operation’s challenges.