The outcome of the great American safety fiasco of 2008

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You’ll remember the ludicrous state the US airlines and FAA got into at various points last year which started with a genuine compliance issue in Southwest and exploded into the groundings of hundreds of aircraft over a period of weeks. It all culminated in the insanity of United’s grounding of its 777 fleet pointlessly leaving passengers stranded all over the world. In between there were assorted bizarre sagas involving American and Delta MD-80s and American ERJ-145s. A truly shameful episode.

Well, pretty much since then there has been an epic effort underway to overhaul the US airworthiness directive system, basically to instill some commonsense back into it.

And now, under new administrator Randy Babbitt, the plan is out. There’s also a press release.

Let me say first that the actions that have come out are spot on, andit’s to everyone’s credit that this proposal has been thrashed out.

But that fact sheet at the link absolutely confirms just how scandalous the original situation was. Here’s the smoking gun: “Italso determined that a highly charged media environment contributed toan overly conservative FAA response to the situation.”

In short, very senior people running the FAA and indeed the airlinescompletely lost their nerve. Not just because of the media reaction Ithink, but also for fear of congressman Oberstar and his hangers on.

Unfortunately I fear that this is not all over yet. Consider for example this from the fact sheet: “The FAA defined a 24/7 process for agency engineers to supportinspectors who have compliance questions on complex ADs and supportthem throughout the approval of urgent Alternate Methods of Compliance(AMOCs).”

It was an AMOC (subsequently approved) that was at the centre of the American MD-80 nonsense. I salute in advance the brave soul who agrees to an AMOC in thesmall hours of the morning knowing he is going to be second-guessed bythe bullying Mr Oberstar the next day.

Good luck to all.

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