NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FAA's Airline Safety Program Misfiring

July 7, 1999

In the aftermath of the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, the Federal Aviation Administration set up the Air Transportation Oversight System aimed at reducing accidents among the nation's largest airlines. But a new report from the General Accounting Office charges that the plan isn't working.

The study concludes that:

  • Inspection teams had only two weeks of training -- and sometimes no training on jets they were responsible for checking.
  • The system was faulted for its data collection and dissemination methods -- with forms lacking such basic information as the airline's name, for example.
  • Inspectors were asked to review the resumes of airline officials, while failing to monitor how an airline handles hazardous materials.
  • Staff turnover resulted in seasoned inspectors being replaced by inexperienced novices.

In the past, the FAA inspected jets at the gate, monitored flight operations and reviewed maintenance. The new plan assigns inspection teams to each airline to look for patterns that could lead to major problems -- rather than simply checking to assure that aircraft parts are working.

The system, which was implemented last October, concentrates on the nation's 10 largest airlines, but is expected to be expanded to all commercial carriers.

Source: Fred Bayles and Alan Levin, "Report: Jet Safety Program Falls Short," USA Today, July 7, 1999.


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