FAA faulted for inspection lapses
Report: Not enough manpower, money for adequate coverage
By Stephen Power and Andy Pasztor
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 9 — Three and a half years after launching a program to more effectively inspect airlines for potential safety problems, the Federal Aviation Administration still lacks the people, training and management focus to carry out the job, according to a new government report.

 

 THE REPORT, PREPARED by the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general, faults the FAA for failing to carry out adequately an enhanced inspection regime designed to keep closer tabs on the nation’s largest carriers. Intended to be more proactive in identifying and cracking down on operational and maintenance lapses, the initiative continues to lag behind in analyzing data and properly training inspectors, the report says.  
 
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       Two out of three veteran inspectors who were interviewed, for example, complained that the system “does not provide enough inspection coverage,” according to the report. In addition, the new procedures haven’t been uniformly implemented nationwide, and more than half of the inspectors interviewed for the report said they don’t understand the inspection checklist questions they are required to ask in evaluating air carriers’ systems, the report adds.

 

 

 
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       Michael Fanfalone, president of a union representing 2,600 inspectors, said the shortage of detailed analysis amounts to “a worse oversight system” than the one it replaced. Officials at the FAA and the inspector general’s office declined to discuss the report, slated for release later this week. But in a briefing with reporters Monday, FAA officials sought to head off criticism by stressing the changes under way and disputing that inspectors aren’t adequately trained. The program, intended to encourage inspectors to spend less time examining wings and rivets and more time analyzing carriers’ safety procedures and maintenance trends, already has yielded benefits, they said: One major airline beefed up training for flight crews.
       
‘MAKING IMPROVEMENTS’
       FAA inspectors “did receive extensive training, but we are responsive and listening to what they [inspectors] have to say and are making improvements” based on their comments, one FAA official said.
 
from this link
 
 

       The FAA began a massive overhaul of airline inspection procedures after the 1996 crash of a ValuJet plane in the Florida Everglades highlighted problems in the agency’s oversight. In October 1998, the FAA began the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) at the 10 largest carriers at the time, billing it as the leading edge of a “data-driven” effort to pinpoint unsafe practices at carriers that could lead to accidents.
       But the report says the FAA has provided “minimal training” for many of its inspectors, adversely affecting data quality. The report concludes that the overall inspection program hasn’t been “fully implemented” at the nine largest carriers that are part of the program.
 

But there are TWO sides to every question - Counterspin that Bad PR!

FAA says new maintenance program is proceeding on schedule


By JONATHAN D. SALANT
The Associated Press
4/8/02 6:03 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Aviation Administration officials say they are making progress with a new airline safety system that targets specific areas for improvement.

The Air Transportation Oversight System provides national standards for FAA inspectors and the airlines to follow in 95 different areas, including deicing, crew scheduling and maintenance training. It allows the FAA and the airlines to focus their attention and personnel on areas found to have problems.

The FAA offered its own assessment on Monday, three days before Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead is scheduled to tell Congress that the agency has not finished developing the program and hasn't provided its inspectors with the necessary training.

Mead and Nick Sabatini, FAA's associate administrator for regulation and certification, are scheduled to testify Thursday before the House aviation subcommittee.

FAA officials said they were on schedule for expanding the program. It now focuses on the nation's 10 largest carriers, which carry 95 percent of U.S. passengers. "We're confident that we have it right," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Inadequate maintenance may have contributed to the January 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which killed 88 people. A maintenance problem was overlooked by both the airline and the FAA, the inspector general said.

Following the crash, the FAA reviewed the maintenance programs of nine major airlines and reported in February that the carriers had made improvements.

The new FAA system, started in 1998, involves some 500 inspectors, who certify airline safety programs and then do periodic audits to make sure the procedures are followed.

The program evaluates a particular airline's maintenance program and concentrates on those areas most in need of improvement and crucial to safety. For example, one airline failed to give its relief pilots enough flying experience, so it provided more training.

The FAA formerly offered generic checks of all procedures and did not have uniform standards for its inspectors to follow.

On the Net:

Air Transportation Oversight System: http://www.faa.gov/avr/afs/atos/

Transportation Department Inspector General: http://www.oig.dot.gov/

April 14, 2002 -  Air-Safety Regulators Flunk Yet Another Test

WASHINGTON (USA) - In the wake of Sept. 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites) was stripped of its mandate to oversee airline security thanks to its own incompetence. It wrote weak regulations and allowed airlines to get away with cheap, bungled baggage screening. But a new report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general raises troubling questions about the agency's ability to handle its key remaining job: ensuring that airlines operate safely.

On Thursday, FAA officials will appear before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to answer findings that a highly touted system for improving airline maintenance and operations, unveiled in 1998, is still fraught with dangerous problems. Training is inadequate, inspectors are ineffectively used, and elements of the system were never put in place, Inspector General Kenneth Mead found.

The program was established to close perilous safety gaps revealed by a 1996 ValuJet crash, in which 110 died. The FAA had written lax fire-safety rules and then ignored ValuJet's many problems. Yet in January 2000, when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 plummeted into the Pacific, the crash revealed that the FAA's new safety regimen failed to catch obvious signs of maintenance lapses at what was then the nation's 10th-largest airline.

The new program's concept is sound: replace hit-and-miss safety checks of the nation's enormous fleet of planes with a new data-collection system aimed at detecting trends that presage serious problems. Even so, the new report found several flaws:

* Spotty data analysis. While the heart of the program is analyzing data and kicking it back to correct weaknesses, the FAA, nearly four years into the program, is still developing these basics. That means inspectors cannot ''effectively determine changes air carriers need to make'' or ''target resources to the greatest safety risks.''

* Poor training. Many inspectors don't understand the checklists they're using to find safety problems; 71% of those interviewed by investigators said they haven't been adequately trained to use the new inspection tools.

* Nonsensical assignments. Inspectors are often headquartered far from the airlines they oversee, undercutting their ability to get the most out of inspections. One office overseeing two airlines with major bases in Tampa and Cincinnati has no field inspectors near those cities. Inspectors overseeing a huge airline with hubs in Denver and Chicago are housed in three other cities with little of that airline's traffic.

The FAA says it's addressing the problems quickly. The agency is about to field-test improvements to its data-analysis program. Other changes, such as training for inspectors, will be completed soon. After reviewing the FAA's actions since his inquiry was completed last November, the inspector general says the agency has made progress.

But Michael D. Fanfalone, president of the union that represents inspectors, questions the FAA's improvement claims. He says inspectors still lack critical training, analysts don't have enough solid data to work with, and inspections involve ''more activity, less substance.''

Six years after the Valujet crash revealed a virtual collapse of safety oversight, the FAA should be far beyond training inspectors and field-testing a new system.

The inspector general's critique is a sobering reminder that simplifying the FAA's mission after Sept. 11 left the agency still facing complicated challenges.

The AMFA on FAA Oversight (CASS and ATOS) in the House Aviation Subcommittee Hearings

 
Welcome  Overview  Publications  News & Information  FAA Home  DOT Home 

 

A little over two years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration initiated a new and innovative way of inspecting the nation's airlines. It is designed to identify safety trends in order to spot and correct problems at their root cause before an accident occurs.

Our goal is simple: to make a safe system even safer.

The program, called the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), is now in place for the nation's 10 largest airlines -- which handle 95% of U.S. passengers -- and will ultimately include all U.S. airlines.

FAA inspectors now look at an airline as a whole, to see how the many elements of its operations -- from aircraft to pilots to maintenance facilities to flight dispatch -- interact to meet federal standards.

By collecting and analyzing data on the many airline systems, FAA inspectors are better able to target areas for improvement. Congress' General Accounting Office, the National Transportation Safety Board and the airlines agree with our approach.

ATOS already has yielded benefits: It has enabled us to create a targeted, more effective surveillance plan.

ATOS is a significant shift in the way we oversee airlines and in the way our inspectors operate. Our goals are to assure that safety standards are met and to get ahead of issues that could potentially lead to the next accident. ATOS is a work in progress, working to ensure the American public will see even safer skies through the FAA's implementation of ATOS.

Welcome to FAA's Air Transportation Oversight System web site …

 

 

Revised:30 April 2001

Please forward all comments or suggestions via e-mail to: brad.lewis@faa.gov

 

 

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