FAA Administrator Steve Dickson headlined an Aviation Safety Town Hall today that looked ahead to a post-COVID-19 landscape, saying the industry needs to take “proactive safety steps” to ensure the accident rates remain low as the airlines emerge from the pandemic downturn. “This town hall is part of a continuing dialogue that will help us understand what those steps need to be. Maybe we need more training, more FAA/industry communication, or enhanced oversight. We’re here to find out.”
“We have to recognize that the industry that existed last March … no longer exists today. Thousands of pilots and aviation professionals have taken early retirement or been laid off. Companies such as Boeing and GE have laid off 30 percent of their engineers, for example. In many cases, pilots are not really flying enough to maintain their currency to the levels that we want.” Dickson also noted that many airlines are retiring older aircraft and replacing them with newer models “that pilots may be less familiar with. Through these disruptions, a new industry is emerging.” He also noted that with many experienced pilots retiring, “the pilots in the new industry will probably have less overall experience … they’ll be flying higher-frequency domestic flights as a percentage of operations. Let’s face it, long haul flights will probably not be coming back in the short term.” Dickson said that these issues taken together will “create a new set of stressors that will inject new safety risks into the system and we absolutely cannot afford to be complacent about that.”
With current events in mind, Dickson offered with a quick update of the recent United Boeing 777 incident where the right-hand Pratt & Whitney PW4000-series engine suffered the failure of at least one first-stage fan blade. “The FAA has reviewed all safety data and is in the process of developing an emergency airworthiness directive that will require either immediate or stepped-up inspections of the 777 using this type of P&W engine.” Noting that the NTSB has begun its investigation, Dickson said, “We look forward to seeing the results of the NTSB investigation, but we’re not waiting for that. We’re acting immediately with the best data and information we have.”
In fact, by Tuesday evening, the FAA had published an emergency AD requiring a “TAI” inspection before further flight for Boeing 777s with the Pratt & Whitney 4077 engine. United, the only U.S. carrier with affected aircraft, has already grounded its fleet of Pratt-powered 777s.
You can watch the entire town hall below.