Aviation Safety:

Problems Persist in FAA's Inspection Program

RCED-92-14: Published: Nov 20, 1991. Publicly Released: Dec 5, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection of airlines and related aviation activities, focusing on whether FAA: (1) has sufficient information to provide effective oversight of its inspection program; (2) targets its inspection resources to airlines posing the greatest safety risks; and (3) has a system similar to the one developed by the Department of Defense (DOD) to assess the performance of commercial airlines with which it contracts.

GAO found that: (1) FAA lacks complete and accurate information on its inspection program; (2) without such information, FAA cannot determine whether it achieves inspection priorities, conducts adequate and timely follow-up activities, and uses resources effectively; (3) FAA inspectors spent only 23 percent of their time performing inspections instead of the 35 percent required for fiscal year (FY) 1990; (4) FAA required one operations, maintenance, and avionics inspection annually for each airline, but 36 percent of the airlines did not receive the required inspections in FY 1990; (5) although FAA maintains numerous databases on airline-related safety information, it does not inspect airlines on the basis of safety risk; (6) FAA often spent more inspection time on airlines DOD rated as better performers than on poorer performing airlines; and (7) FAA recognizes that a system similar to the DOD system can help FAA better manage its inspection program and hopes to develop and evaluate a prototype system for air carriers by FY 1993.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1996, FAA revised its guidance used by inspectors to record the results of inspections. The guidance is contained in FAA's Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS) Procedures Manual. The revision includes an extensive discussion on selecting the proper comment code as well as guidance on preparing the narrative portion relating to the comment code in inspection reports. The new guidance also points out that efforts are in process to reduce the number of comment codes and better define them. According to FAA, the PTRS data quality has improved since the changes were made, partly because the instructions in the manual are clearer, and partly because the inspectors better understand the importance and utility of improved data. Efforts to further refine the data are continuing.

    Recommendation: To enhance inspection program oversight, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to improve the inspection reporting system by completing its efforts to provide inspectors clear and distinctive definitions of comment codes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT stated that the current handbook guidance requires inspectors to record corrective action. Therefore, FAA planned no further action on this recommendation. However, FAA headquarters officials have not provided GAO with documentation supporting their statement while FAA inspectors recently told GAO that the handbook does not contain the requirement to record corrective action.

    Recommendation: To enhance inspection program oversight, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to improve the inspection reporting system by requiring inspectors to record corrective actions taken for identified problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: All Flight Standards inspectors, supervisors, managers and safety analysts will be trained by 9/30/99. In addition to SPAS, Flight Standards established and developed additional methods for determining severity of problems identified and assessing airlines' operations, maintenance, and avionics activities. In May 1997, as a result of the 90-day Aviation Safety Review, FAA established the Flight Standards Safety Analysis Information Center (FSAIC) to provide analytical support for national surveillance programs. FSAIC will review and assess all Part 121 operators by using analysis summary reports developed from the National Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem data and information contained in SPAS to identify trends that could have a negative safety impact.

    Recommendation: To enhance inspection program oversight, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to improve the inspection reporting system by developing and using criteria for determining the severity of problems identified and for rendering overall assessments of airlines' operations, maintenance, and avionics activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has developed the Safety Performance Analysis System (SPAS) to assess potential safety risks and identify trends that could have a negative impact on safety. FAA tested a prototype version of SPAS in September 1995 and released the updated version in September 1997. Training for key Flight Standards staff will be completed in September 1999 and full deployment of SPAS by December 1999. Other efforts undertaken by FAA to enhance risk assessment include the establishment of the FSAIC to provide analytical support for national surveillance programs.

    Recommendation: To make more effective use of limited inspection resources, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to give priority to developing a risk-assessment system, including a plan and milestones for implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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