Aircraft Maintenance:

FAA Needs to Follow Through on Plans to Ensure the Safety of Aging Aircraft

RCED-93-91: Published: Feb 26, 1993. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 1993.

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GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to improve its monitoring of airlines' compliance with maintenance rules for aging aircraft, focusing on: (1) changes in airlines' aging aircraft maintenance strategies; (2) FAA use of a centralized database to monitor airline compliance; and (3) the effectiveness of FAA inspection initiatives to monitor the aging aircraft fleet.

GAO found that: (1) airlines have frequently revised their estimated capacity needs and lacked definitive plans on how long to keep aging aircraft or how to comply with new FAA aging aircraft rules because of changing air travel demands and uncertain corporate financial structures; (2) in response to changing demands and financial constraints, airlines have delayed or cancelled new aircraft orders, changed fleet composition strategies, and utilized previously retired or aging aircraft; (3) FAA failure to create a centralized aircraft database has limited its ability to monitor operator compliance with the new FAA rules and airworthiness directives (AD), collect and summarize aircraft data, and identify aircraft which are approaching compliance thresholds; (4) establishing a comprehensive centralized database could increase FAA inspectors' ability to monitor airlines which might be slow in complying, request plans for compliance, and identify operator implementation obstacles such as parts and labor shortages; (5) FAA inspection activities for aging aircraft included AD verification inspections, the National Aviation Safety Inspection Program (NASIP), and hands-on structural spot inspections; (6) the effectiveness of FAA inspection initiatives is questionable due to inspectors' failure to consistently enter AD data into the automated inspector tracking system, hands-on inspection scheduling problems, and insufficient spot inspection data and guidelines; and (7) FAA cannot effectively determine whether inspectors are emphasizing aging aircraft-related inspections as directed and targeting resources to high priority areas without complete data.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the first quarter of fiscal year 1994 FAA terminated a contracting effort to collect these data. This was due in part to FAA's: (1) request to the principal maintenance inspectors (PMI) to provide information on the Structural Modification Program; (2) reliance on information provided through the Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS) and FAA's surveillance activities; (3) focused aging aircraft inspections as part of NASIP; and (4) diminishing resources. According to FAA, information from the first three activities will allow FAA management to acquire a status on the fleet. These actions, if properly implemented, will fulfill the intent of this recommendation. In January 1995, GAO testified that FAA had, in fact, collected detailed information on airline compliance with airworthiness directives for some of the aging aircraft fleet and had initiated another effort to collect it for the remaining fleet.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to promptly develop, with assistance from the U.S. airline community, a means to collect detailed aging aircraft AD compliance information on a regular basis and report the status of the fleet to FAA headquarters. FAA headquarters officials would then be able to identify problem areas and target inspection resources accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 30, 1995, FAA issued revised guidance to inspectors clarifying the existing procedures in FAA Order 8300.10, "Airworthiness Inspector's Handbook," which defines and describes surveillance activities conducted on airworthiness directives. The new guidance was included in change 10 to the handbook. The new guidance requires inspectors to enter the number of each airworthiness directive verified and the complete inspection results, including the type of directive verified during an inspection, in the Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS) comments section. With this information in PTRS, FAA management can clearly determine which directives are being verified by querying PTRS files.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to clarify guidance directing inspectors to report complete inspection results using the program tracking and reporting subsystem, including the type of AD verified during an inspection, so that FAA management can more clearly determine which AD its inspectors are checking.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The NASIP inspections with an aging aircraft component are intended to be scheduled so that an aging aircraft is available. These inspections are scheduled by contacting the assigned principal maintenance inspector to determine when an operator has scheduled an aging aircraft. Since NASIP inspections are planned in advance around the operator's schedule, modifications to that schedule have, on some occasion in the past, affected aircraft availability. However, by working more closely with operators, availability issues have been resolved. Based on the process that now exists, the intent of the recommendation has been fully implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, in scheduling NASIP inspections with aging aircraft component, to ensure that an aging aircraft is available during the review and that a hands-on, nose-to-tail examination of an aging aircraft is performed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 30, 1995, FAA issued guidance to inspectors incorporating information from Action Notice 8300.74, Surveillance of Aircraft Undergoing Heavy Inspections, which provides guidance pertaining to structure spot inspections (PTRS code 3647) with emphasis on aging aircraft-related structural spot inspections. The new guidance was included in change 10 to the handbook. The new guidance requires inspectors to include, in the PTRS comments section, the age of the aircraft and whether the purpose of the operator's inspection was aging aircraft-related. In addition, the national use block of the PTRS form will be labeled "AGING." FAA will then be able to track the inspections to determine the extent to which structural spot inspections are being used to monitor aging aircraft.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to revise the guidance for the structural spot inspections so that inspectors are required to achieve a minimum level of inspections on aging aircraft undergoing some specific aging aircraft-related maintenance, repair, or modification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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