Now Is NOT The Time To Be Hearing This
After a spate of crashes worldwide this month, it makes sense that there is more attention on airline safety now than at any time since the days following 9/11.
Frequent air travelers, jittery novices, and armchair auditors alike are questioning the effects of the Northwest Airlines mechanics strike on the safety of that carrier's planes (thankfully, seemingly none so far) while crashes in Greece, Venezuela, and Peru appear to show the worst consequences of failed procedures and, perhaps, mechanical failure.
Now comes word that as recently as 2003, the most recent statistics available, that the FAA had fallen as much as 25 percent behind on their own mandated safety inspections of the five major domestic airlines for that year. That left 938 unfinished inspections nationwide, including 516 in which specific safety risks had been identified, awaiting the review and judgement by an FAA inspector.
"We are down to the nub," said Linda Goodrich, regional vice president for flight standards with the FAA inspectors union.
"We can't possibly provide the oversight we're required to do."
Lack of funds is the issue, according to the FAA, forcing staff reductions and thinner coverage over larger territories. The FAA expects to lose 300 inspectors this year alone -- an ongoing trend, according to former NTSB member John Goglia (pictured, right).
"The FAA has been resource-strained for a while," he said. The FAA hopes to regain additional funds and staff in the 2006 budget year.
The FAA is quick to point out that the lack of inspectors does not mean that passenger safety has been compromised in any way. There has not been a fatal crash of a large domestic passenger plane in more than three years, for example.
Also, FAA inspectors review the maintenance procedures already in place at the airlines -- they do not provide maintenance themselves.
"This is the safest period in aviation history and we intend to keep it that way," said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.