On Wednesday, September 10th, a panel of experts chaired by former Ambassador to the ICAO Stimpson came to the conclusion that the FAA deserves significant praise for the FAA's evolving, risk-based approach to airline regulation.
At the same time the report pointed out that there were areas of concern such as the decision by an FAA manager to allow Southwest Airlines continue to operate aircraft that were overdue for safety checks for structural weakness. All in all the panel made 13 significant recommendations to Mary E. Peters, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
Despite the concerns by the panel, Mr. Stimpson said he is impressed with the FAA's overall commitment to safety and improving its oversight approach. He also praised the agency's cooperative approach to industry, which relies on airline-provided data in assessing safety risks.
"A big concern is to make sure we keep a collaborative system where all parties are working together on the core mission of safety," he said in an interview. "The precursors for the next accident are in this data." According to Transportation Secretary Peters the moves "will improve both the intensity and the integrity of the FAA's safety" programs. An FAA spokeswoman later said the "entire report showed the strength of the FAA infrastructure and how it will be further strengthened by the enactment of the recommendations."
Two issues of concern were whether or not supervisory inspectors for the airlines should be rotated between offices, and whether or not an independent office charged with examining complaints raised by inspectors should be established.
There is concern within the agency over how much time to spend analyzing data provided by the airlines and the amount of time making actual on site inspections. Another concern is the seemingly inconsistent enforcement application where some inspectors issue a lot of citations and others few or none. Are some inspectors too cozy with the airlines the supervise, and are others overly aggressive in enforcement.
For those of us in general aviation we also see some of these same problems, in particular for Part 135 operators and fractional jet operators. Any improvement in creating a more consistent culture between FAA offices and inspectors would be a welcome improvement for everyone in aviation, and result in greater safety for everyone.
Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth
with your eyes turned skywards,
for there you have been
and there you will long to return. -- Leonardo da Vinci