Aviation Safety:

Management Improvement Needed in FAA's Airworthiness Directive Program

RCED-90-94: Published: Feb 16, 1990. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of its Airworthiness Directive Program, focusing on: (1) whether FAA oversight is sufficient to determine airlines' compliance with directives; and (2) how FAA safety information could be used to make the program more effective.

GAO found that: (1) the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) accident investigations and FAA special inspections have shown significant noncompliance with airworthiness directives; (2) during routine inspections, FAA personnel were not always verifying compliance, since FAA inspection guidelines allowed inspectors too much discretion; (3) because inspectors reported only noncompliance, FAA did not have information on the number of program requirements applied by inspectors or the extent of compliance throughout the airline industry; and (4) FAA was not effectively using safety data to focus its limited resources on high-risk areas during routine inspections.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurs in systematic airworthiness directive testing but believes that airworthiness testing of each airline inspection is not possible. FAA implemented systematic airworthiness directive testing for 3 types of routine airline inspections rather than the 21 as recommended.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA management and oversight of the airworthiness directive program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require a systematic testing for airworthiness directive compliance as part of each routine airline inspection.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An action notice, issued May 9, 1990, contained a requirement for inspectors to report on the extent of compliance observed during inspections and provided a standard reporting format for identifying and tracking compliance with airworthiness directives.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA management and oversight of the airworthiness directive program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require inspectors to report which airworthiness directives are tested and the extent of airline compliance found during each inspection.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA stated that it will specifically code 3 of the 21 inspection areas: aircraft records, airworthiness directive implementation or modification, and spot inspections in its management information system. Also, FAA plans to develop a database on airworthiness directive compliance.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA management and oversight of the airworthiness directive program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to maintain and analyze compliance information to determine the extent of airworthiness directive noncompliance and any additional actions necessary to ensure that airlines comply with airworthiness directives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA announced, in September 1990, that it would use and analyze available aircraft safety data to help focus its inspection effort. FAA recently began to develop the Safety Performance Analysis Subsystem to assess airlines' safety performance and help target its inspection resources. A November 1991 recommendation superseded this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to analyze and use available aircraft safety data as a management tool to focus the limited FAA inspection work force.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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