Alaska Senators Back ‘Pilot’s Bill of Rights’

Alaska’s Senators are backing what’s being called a “Pilot’s Bill of Rights.” The legislation proposed by Oklahoma Senator and pilot Jim Inhofe aims to grant aviators more access to information and clarifies Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Under the proposed “Pilot’s Bill of Rights,” if there’s a claim that a pilot’s broke the rules, the FAA would have to turn over all evidence to him or her thirty days before giving any punishment. That information would include air traffic communication tapes. Senator Inhofe says that’s not currently done, and it leaves pilots unprepared to defend themselves.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says pilots deserve access to the personal information held by the FAA or the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Issues within the NTSB not being able to gain access to your files or to your records, it’s pretty simple stuff in terms of transparency and access to your own records.”

Murkowski says Alaskan pilots have contacted her with complaints that the current system just doesn’t grant them enough information.

“It’s interesting hearing some of the stories that were told about situations where there had been an incident and a pilot was given either a reprimand or license pulled, and no clear understanding to the reason behind it. Or what he or she may have to do to get it back.”

Senator Inhofe had a run-in with FAA rules last year when he landed on a closed Texas runway. In the Senator’s case he had to take a remedial training program, but the FAA didn’t take legal action against him. Afterward he pledged to introduce legislation relating to his experience.

The bill he’s proposed also calls for a review of the FAA’s medical certification process and forms.  Senator Inhofe says there are too many cases when pilots misinterpret the paperwork and are then accused of intentionally falsifying them.

The issue of pilot medical exams and records is controversial. In May the NTSB found in an investigation into the plane crash that killed former Senator Ted Stevens and four others last summer that the pilot did not go through rigorous enough medical screening after suffering a stroke. The Inhofe bill does not call for a loosening of medical qualifications, just a review.

The so-called “Pilot’s Bill of Rights” has two dozen co-sponsors in the Senate. Congressman Don Young’s office says a companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House soon, which he plans to support.

Meanwhile Alaska’s Senators are also pushing for more privacy in the skies, they signed a letter sent last week to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pushing him to keep what’s called the BARR program, or Block Aircraft Registration Request program. It allows plane operators to have their aircraft tail number withheld from real-time flight tracking software.

LaHood is calling for the program to be dismantled, saying only operators with a verified security threat could keep their flight path private. But Senator Mark Begich says releasing the tail numbers and flying routes makes public too much information.

“Let’s say you have two companies that are talking about merging. Lots of times they’re flying back and forth on their corporate jets back to corporate headquarters.  Here’s what can happen.  You can start having speculators who know where these guys are going. Or let’s say there’s a company in Alaska that’s an oil company, has prospects that they’re developing, and they are now talking to other oil and gas partners that could have dramatic positive impact to our state, but they want to keep it private while they’re trying to figure out all the financial arrangements that are going on.”

Begich says people in the public eye should also be able to remain anonymous when they travel, whether they’re witnesses in a court case or millionaires concerned about kidnapping threats.

Begich co-authored the letter as co-chairman of the Senate General Aviation Caucus. Besides Murkowski, 23 other Senators also signed on.

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