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US auditors probe FAA safety practices

FAA oversight of airlines is again under scrutiny by a government watchdog agency in the wake of lapses in compliance at Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

Specifically the DOT Inspector General is investigating FAA’s methods of ensuring compliance with Airworthiness Directives (ADs) and the agency’s risk-based air transportation oversight system (ATOS).

The US Congress requested the IG audit following the widely reported grounding of aircraft at Southwest and American Airlines to ensure compliance with certain ADs.

American experienced the largest disruption, canceling nearly 2,500 flights in April after grounding its MD-80 fleet to inspect components holding wiring in wheel wells.

FAA levied a $10.2 million fine on Southwest after it was determined the carrier failed to inspect a portion of its 737s for cracks, a requirement of an AD published in 2004. The carrier grounded 44 of its aircraft in March for re-inspection.

In the audit, IG plans to determine if FAA has completed inspections of various air carrier systems for monitoring critical maintenance programs, and will also audit FAA’s own special inspections of air carrier AD compliance.

IG is also reviewing maintenance oversight at a single unnamed carrier to determine if maintenance-related incidents including in-flight service emergencies and diversions have increased at this carrier, and if FAA has verified the effectiveness of the airline’s maintenance programme.

In a letter published this week IG explained the audit began in early June, but gave no indication for the conclusion of the review.

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