United Airlines Offers Fixes to FAA Concerns

CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune/TNS) -

United Airlines has outlined a plan for aviation regulators on how it will deal with concerns involving pilot training and scheduling, and is implementing those changes.

The Chicago-based airline in a March 25 letter responded to Federal Aviation Administration concerns by outlining its corrective actions, according to United, which would not detail what the issues were or release the letter.

United self-reported the infractions as part of an FAA program called the Safety Management System, aimed at heading off problems before they become serious enough to warrant enforcement action, such as fines. Airlines voluntarily report the problems and fix them to avoid penalties.

Such back-and-forth between airlines and the FAA generally does not become public.

The FAA on Friday downplayed the significance of its letter to United about the concerns, calling it “a routine communication about issues arising during our evaluation of their voluntary disclosures.”

The communication came to light in a Wall Street Journal story that said the FAA in the Feb. 6 letter to United’s top safety office was concerned with “repeated violations of mandatory pilot qualification and scheduling requirements.” It provided no details, although it cited 12 violations over 13 months. General examples of such issues are pilots flying longer than the maximum they are allowed to by FAA regulations or missing deadlines for periodic training.

“At the request of the FAA, we provided a full outline of our corrective actions,” United said in a statement. “We continue to believe the FAA’s safety management system programs are the best solution to identifying any issues and addressing them to ensure the safety of our customers and employees.”

United called the disclosures “part of a healthy and open safety dialogue between United, our employees and the FAA.”

“As a result of this dialogue and our commitment to the FAA’s (Safety Management System) program, information sharing and collaboration on safety issues is as transparent as it has ever been,” United said. “This environment of openness, fostered by safety management system programs, has contributed to the advances in safety across the industry in recent years.”

A United spokeswoman said the airline is in the process of implementing the changes it outlined to the FAA.

United’s pilot union, Air Line Pilots Association, would only say it is committed to safety “in all things.”

“The pilots of United Airlines are leaders in aviation safety and put safety above all else,” said Capt. Jay Heppner, chairman of the union’s master executive council. “We will continue to assist our company in correcting any safety deficiencies as they are discovered.”

The news comes after United issued a stern and blunt bulletin to its pilots Jan. 9, expressing concerns over safety. It called for stricter compliance with cockpit rules and procedures and cited several serious incidents caused by cockpit errors.

The February FAA letter doesn’t mention those concerns but instead covers areas such as pilot records and crew-member qualifications, according to the Journal.