5 Steps to Ensure Your Airline’s Background Screening Program Survives Its Next Audit

Nick Fishman


Commercial, freight, and fractional jet airlines impact the lives of millions of people every day. Due to the sensitive nature of facilities that airline employees (including third party contractors) work in every day, there’s no doubt that they must undergo a thorough and accurate employment background check. Letting the wrong person into any restricted facility or area can be disastrous; consider the recent case of Brian Howard, a contract employee of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who started a fire in an Illinois control center that canceled or delayed over 2,000 flights at more than three different airports.

If you are in the airline industry, you know that your background screening practices are audited on a regular basis by any one of the following agencies: FAA, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Postal Service (USPS). Fail one of these audits and the consequences could be disastrous. How can your airline avoid issues and other penalties that could result from a failure to successfully complete one of these audits?

Here are five tips to ensure that your employment background checks are up to par:

1. Review and Update Policy Documentation Take a look at your airline’s current background screening policy. When was the last time you updated it? Does it need improvement? Is it in a place where those executing your background screening program can access it? Do they understand the policy? Make sure it continues to address which individuals need to be screened, the screening criteria that should be used and the information on a background check that is or is not acceptable. Also, make sure that all required forms are checked periodically to ensure they continue to comply with ever-changing background screening laws.

2. Review the Background Check Process Sit down with the team who is responsible for the pre-employment background screening process and make sure that the policy is being properly executed. A simple error or mistake along the way can result in a dangerous new hire with your airline.

3. Consider the Requirements for Specific Airline Employees Pilots (see example below) and flight attendants are two examples of employees who must pass a more intensive pre-employment background check opposed to other airline employees who might not need as much clearance. It is important that your background check policy is sensitive to these differences; if not, you run the risk of failing a Department of Homeland Security background check audit or an FAA background check audit.

Within 90 days of an individual beginning service as a pilot, the program manager must request the following information:

  • FAA records pertaining to—
    • Current pilot certificates and associated type ratings.
    • Current medical certificates.
    • Summaries of legal enforcement actions resulting in a finding by the Administrator of a violation.
  • Records from all previous employers during the five years preceding the date of the employment application where the applicant worked as a pilot. If any of these firms are in bankruptcy, the records must be requested from the trustees in bankruptcy for those employees. If the previous employer is no longer in business, a documented good faith effort must be made to obtain the records. Records from previous employers must include, as applicable—
    • Crew member records.
    • Drug testing—collection, testing, and rehabilitation records pertaining to the individual.
    • Alcohol misuse prevention program records pertaining to the individual.
  • The applicant’s individual record that includes certifications, ratings, aeronautical experience, effective date and class of the medical certificate.

4. Update Employee Background Checks Periodically While pre-employment background checks are essential, you should also periodically rescreen current employees. Brian Howard had an eight-year track record of employment with the FAA before he committed a dangerous crime that may have resulted more deadly repercussions.

5. Get Help from Industry Specialists One of the easiest ways to streamline your pre-employment screening is to get help from a reputable background screening company that understands your industry and utilizes best practices while adhering to all compliance regulations. Not only should they help establish and execute the program, they should also provide you with the usage reports and statistics auditors will demand.

Taking these five steps will ultimately protect your company, employees, and customers from potential problems. Not only will a compliant background check policy prevent your company from failing an official audit, it means your airlines is at a lower risk that someone with your organization could cause harm or endanger lives.

Check out our case study to learn how EmployeeScreenIQ helped Continental Airlines raise the bar on their background screening program.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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