Aviation Safety:

Needed Improvements in FAA's Airline Inspection Program Are Underway

RCED-87-62: Published: May 19, 1987. Publicly Released: Jun 2, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA): (1) ability to maintain airline safety standards in a deregulated environment; and (2) actions to correct weaknesses in its inspection program.

GAO found that FAA: (1) did not develop a system for monitoring deregulation's impact; (2) decreased its inspection force by 250 between 1981 and 1983, although it did not have staffing standards to provide a framework for determining how many inspectors it needed; (3) failed to collect inspection data and often did not identify major safety problems or ensure their correction through appropriate followup; (4) lacked guidelines concerning the needed frequency and scope of inspections; and (5) gave priority to certifying new airlines while existing airlines were experiencing safety compliance problems due to rapid growth and personnel turnover. GAO also found that FAA has begun to address these problems by: (1) increasing its inspector work force; (2) establishing minimum inspection standards; (3) improving its internal control and management information systems; and (4) instituting a National Inspection Plan (NIP), using specially assembled teams to inspect targeted airlines.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An annual call for the National Aviation Safety Inspection Program inspection candidates was conducted and a new program notice (N8000.27) was published in July 1987. New National Program guidelines (A1800.3) were published in September 1987. These guidelines delineated the inspection program for FY 1988. The process for identifying inspection requirements are institutionalized in systems.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop criteria for targeting airlines for special inspections under NIP and define the relationship between the special inspections and routine surveillance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has revised its program guidelines, but has not yet included the new inspection guidance into its staffing standards. FAA Order 1800.5 has been amended and FAA considers this item completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to supplement FAA minimum standards for the type and frequency of airline inspections to provide guidance that takes into account the need to target airlines displaying characteristics that may indicate safety deficiencies, such as a relatively large amount of contracted maintenance and training, inadequate internal management controls, or management experience and philosophy incompatible with sound safety practices. These minimum type and frequency standards should be incorporated into FAA inspector staffing standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To date, FAA has hired a national evaluation staff, directives and checklist have been written, and the first evaluation has been conducted. FAA considers this complete in view of actions already stated.

    Recommendation: To help expedite the implementation of FAA efforts and better ensure their effectiveness, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to establish measurable goals and target dates for implementing agencywide evaluations of regional and district office compliance with inspection work priorities, the adequacy of supervisory oversight, and the quality of the periodic and follow-up inspections being performed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A paper that examines alternatives for rehosting WPMS and other Burroughs applications to an IBM-compatible microcomputer environment has been completed. A decision was made to proceed.

    Recommendation: To help expedite the implementation of FAA efforts and better ensure their effectiveness, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a plan to ensure that the extensive software and handbook revisions, as well as the retraining necessary to effect the smooth changeover to the new type of microcomputer for the Work Program Management Subsystem (WPMS), have been made by mid-1988, when the new computers are expected to be available for use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Work Program Management System has been replaced with the Program Tracking and Reporting System. Due to funding problems, the date of rehost completion is unknown.

    Recommendation: To help expedite the implementation of FAA efforts and better ensure their effectiveness, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to ensure that the FAA management information system is adequate to: (1) identify who is inspecting which airlines, thereby permitting FAA to better allocate its inspector work force and identify the current training needs of all of its inspectors; and (2) analyze nationwide inspection results for each airline to provide FAA with a better picture of each airline's compliance with safety regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA considers this action completed in view of previous comments submitted on evaluations supporting and incorporated in the annual review of inspector staffing needs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to refine estimates for staffing NIP and incorporate these estimates in its inspector staffing standard.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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