FAA Fails to Follow Up on Safety Violations Even When Carriers Self Report
Six years after Congress learned that the federal agency in charge of aviation safety ignores serious violations that endanger the public, the culture continues and the details are documented in a distressing government audit released this month.
It’s a truly unbelievable tale of incessant negligence—and corruption—on the part of a huge government agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), tasked with protecting millions of lives. In 2008 two FAA inspectors actually testified before Congress about how the agency let the safety violations of major U.S. airlines slide because supervisors had cozy relationships with the carriers.
The inspectors were threatened with dismissal when they pointed out the serious safety violations and became government whistleblowers. A year earlier a scathing congressional report detailed the serious safety mishaps that regularly occur on runways across the country, especially at the nation’s busiest airports. That investigation also exposed that the FAA has unscrupulously close ties to the industry it regulates.
At the time the head of the FAA, Marion Blakey, accepted a job as head of a powerful trade group that represents major firms regulated by the agency. As FAA chief, Blakey oversaw and awarded lucrative federal contracts to many of the firms that she went on to represent in the private sector.
A number of other scandals have rocked the FAA over the years and Judicial Watch has reported many of them. For instance, the agency certifies mechanics that can’t even speak English, has lost track of more than 100,000 airplanes and fails to properly secure flight schools. Remember how the 9/11 hijackers received their training at U.S. flight schools? It’s the FAA’s duty to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening yet even after the 2001 terrorist attacks it has failed miserably to do so. Read JW’s coverage of the FAA here.
Now, half a decade after the whistleblower FAA inspectors personally laid out the outrageous safety violations for members of Congress, it appears that little has changed to clean up the agency. At least that’s what an FAA Inspector General report indicates. Released just a few days ago, the report says that even when the FAA is spoon fed detailed information on airplane safety violations, it fails to take action. This appears to border on the criminal and at the very least is seriously negligent.
Investigators focused on a special initiative called Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP) that provides air carriers the opportunity to report and correct areas of non-compliance without civil penalty. This helps the FAA identify and mitigate safety issues and requires “close monitoring,” according to the agency watchdog. In other words, the FAA is supposed to do its job by following up to make sure that the violations are corrected. However, investigators found that the “FAA does not ensure that air carriers fully implement corrective actions or verify whether the actions are adequate at resolving problems.”
It doesn’t stop there. The IG also found that the FAA doesn’t effectively collect, analyze and trend the self-reported data to identify safety risks at the national level. “As a result, FAA inspectors are not realizing the full potential of VDRP data to target inspections to areas of highest risk,” according to the report. The IG interviewed dozens of FAA inspectors and none bothered to identify root causes of the safety violations, which is a large part of their job at the agency.