PIT Passes Annual FAA Inspection with Perfect Score

Rare achievement highlights dedication to safe operations for passengers, airlines, staff

By Matt Neistei

Published November 25, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


Every year, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector spends a few days at one of the more than 550 airports in the U.S. that offer significant commercial passenger service.

The inspector looks at piles of paperwork, interviews personnel and scrutinizes the airfield for the tiniest violations of the agency’s strict standards, from the height of grass to the percentage of reflectance for runway markings.

In the industry, this is known as a Part 139 inspection, named after the federal regulation pertaining to airport certification. It is so thorough and detailed that even the most conscientious airport staffs usually end up with several discrepancies noted on the final report.

Pittsburgh International Airport’s turn came the first week of November, and after three days of intense analysis, the FAA inspector couldn’t find a single noteworthy issue in its flight and safety operations.

That’s right – PIT got an A-plus on its biggest test of the year.

“It is a significant accomplishment and reinforces the effort the [Operations] team puts forward every day,” said Patrick Carreno, PIT Vice President of Airport Operations. “It shows that not only is the Ops team highly skilled and knowledgeable in what they do, but they take pride in keeping the airport safe and operational.”

It’s the first time in its history that PIT received zero discrepancies during the annual inspection.

In the letter from the FAA, the inspector wrote, “We commend you for the procedures you are using in the day-to-day operation of the airport. The appearance of the airport indicates they are effective.”

Part 139 certifications

The FAA’s certification regulations apply to U.S. airports that offer scheduled passenger-carrying operations in aircraft designed for more than nine passenger seats or unscheduled passenger-carrying operations in aircraft designed for at least 31 passenger seats.

To be certified, an airport must adhere to operational and safety standards, which can vary depending on its size and the flights it serves. The FAA can issue certain exemptions to airports that serve relatively few passengers yearly and for which some requirements might impose a financial burden.

The FAA did not respond to a request for comment by the Blue Sky publication deadline.

As part of the certification, inspectors visit each airport annually to review fueling facilities, rescue and firefighting operations, administrative files and more, all with an eye on keeping the airport as safe as possible for passengers and personnel.

From reviewing paperwork to inspecting runway markings and lights, the annual Part 139 inspection takes about three days to complete. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

“If the FAA finds an airport is not meeting requirements, they typically impose an administrative action that requires a correction by a specific date. They can also impose a fine for each day the airport continues to violate a Part 139 requirement,” Carreno said.

“If a discrepancy is severe enough, they could revoke the airport’s operating certificate or limit the areas of an airport that airlines can use.”

Focusing on the job

Constant attention to detail and dedication to safety are second nature to most airport staffs. In a workplace that never closes and revolves around the constant movement of 60-ton aircraft that hit speeds of 175 mph while carrying hundreds of people, there’s no room for error.

Thorough training can keep workers on top of their games, but PIT often goes beyond what many airports do, said Jim Moorhead, Assistant Superintendent of Maintenance. Rather than sending managers to training and hoping they learn the subject well enough to come back and teach workers, he’ll send the workers themselves.

For example, every year Moorhead dispatches the paint crew to a well-regarded symposium on airfield markings. The FAA even sends its own inspectors to the gathering for training.

Coincidentally, the inspector who visited PIT in November sat with the airport’s paint team at that symposium earlier this year.

“You can’t try and do this in the 11th hour before the inspector gets here, because you’ll never achieve 100 percent,” Moorhead said. “It’s got to be an overall game plan that we’re all working toward, from the unions to management, all the way up.”

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