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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and 
Infrastructure, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT: 

Wednesday, September 20, 2006: 

Aviation Safety: 

FAA's Safety Efforts Generally Strong but Face Challenges: 

Statement of Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. Director, Physical 
Infrastructure Issues: 

Aviation Safety: 

GAO-06-1091T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-06-1091T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of 
Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The U.S. commercial aviation industry has had an extraordinary safety 
record in recent years. However, expected increases in air- 
traffic—including the introduction of new vehicles into the national 
airspace, such as unmanned vehicles and very light jets—and human 
resource issues, present challenges that have the potential to strain 
the existing safety oversight system. GAO’s testimony focuses on these 
questions: (1) How is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 
ensuring that the areas of highest safety risk are addressed? (2) How 
is FAA ensuring that its staff maintain the skills and knowledge to 
consistently carry out the agency’s oversight programs? and (3) What 
are the key safety challenges facing FAA? This statement is based on 
our recent reports on FAA’s inspection oversight programs, industry 
partnership programs, and enforcement and training programs. It is also 
based on interviews with FAA and relevant industry officials. 

What GAO Found: 

FAA’s aviation safety oversight system includes programs that focus on 
identifying and mitigating risks through a system safety approach and 
by leveraging resources, but as FAA is still developing evaluations for 
some of these programs, it remains unclear the extent to which they are 
achieving their intended effects. FAA’s system safety approach for 
overseeing airlines—through the Air Transportation Oversight System 
(ATOS) and Surveillance and Evaluation Program (SEP)—uses inspection 
staff efficiently by prioritizing workload based on areas of highest 
risk and ensuring that corrective actions have been taken. However, 
recent and planned changes that would move inspections of about 100 
airlines from SEP to ATOS will shift inspector workload and might 
affect FAA’s capability to oversee the industry. FAA also concentrates 
its limited staff resources on the most safety-critical functions and 
through its designee programs delegates other, less critical activities 
to designees. Designees perform about 90 percent of certification-
related activities, and thus allow FAA to better leverage resources. 
GAO’s recent work found some weaknesses in FAA’s system safety approach 
and recommended that FAA develop effective evaluative processes and 
accurate nationwide data on its safety oversight programs to address 
these weaknesses so that program managers and other officials have 
assurance that the programs attain their intended effect. FAA has begun 
implementing those recommendations but does not plan to evaluate SEP, 
which it intends to discontinue after December 2007. 

Training—including mandatory training requirements for FAA’s workforce 
as well as designees—is an integral part of FAA’s safety oversight 
system. GAO has reported that FAA has generally followed effective 
management practices for planning, developing, delivering, and 
assessing the impact of its technical training for safety inspectors, 
although some practices have yet to be fully implemented. However, 
several actions could improve the results of its training efforts. For 
example, FAA develops technical courses on an ad hoc basis rather than 
as part of an overall curriculum for each type of inspector, such as 
inspectors of operations or cabin safety, because the agency has not 
systematically identified the technical skills and competencies each 
type of inspector needs to effectively perform inspections. FAA has 
recognized the need to improve its training program in this and other 
areas. 

FAA faces several key safety challenges, including not meeting its 
performance target for commercial air carrier safety this year because 
of recent fatal accidents. Further, FAA’s ability to oversee aviation 
safety will be affected by recent and anticipated trends in inspector 
and air traffic controller attrition. Also, FAA intends to enhance 
runway safety by relying on new technologies that are expected to 
reduce runway accidents. However, schedule delays and cost increases 
challenge FAA’s ability to deploy this technology. Finally, new types 
of aviation vehicles are changing the aviation industry and will 
require new areas of expertise for FAA’s inspectors and controllers. 

What GAO Recommends: 

To help FAA fully realize the benefits of its safety oversight system, 
GAO has made several recommendations to address the weaknesses 
identified in GAO’s reviews. Although FAA has begun addressing the 
recommendations, many have not been fully implemented. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-06-1091T]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham, 
Ph.D., at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov. 

[End of Section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on issues related to 
aviation safety. The U.S. commercial aviation industry has had an 
extraordinary safety record in recent years. In order to maintain a 
high level of safety, it is important for the Federal Aviation 
Administration (FAA) to have a safety oversight system that is 
comprehensive, efficient, and effective and can provide an early 
warning of hazards that can lead to accidents. It is equally important 
to have a skilled, well-trained workforce to implement and monitor this 
safety oversight system. However, expected increases in air traffic-- 
including the introduction of new vehicles into the national air space, 
such as unmanned vehicles and very light jets--and human resource 
issues present challenges that have the potential to strain the 
existing safety oversight system. My testimony today focuses on these 
questions: (1) How is FAA ensuring that the areas of highest safety 
risk are addressed? (2) How is FAA ensuring that its staff maintain the 
skills and knowledge to consistently carry out the agency's oversight 
programs? and (3) What are the key safety challenges facing FAA? We 
will also discuss our related recommendations that FAA has not fully 
addressed. This statement is based on our recent reports on FAA's 
inspection oversight programs, industry partnership programs, and 
enforcement and training programs. Additionally, we met with FAA 
officials and relevant industry groups and reviewed their documentation 
to obtain information on challenges facing FAA. We conducted this work 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Following is a summary of our findings: 

* FAA's safety oversight system has programs that focus on identifying 
and mitigating risk through a system safety approach, leveraging 
resources, and enforcing safety regulations, but concerns exist with 
each aspect of the system. FAA's system safety approach for overseeing 
airlines--through the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) and 
Surveillance and Evaluation Program (SEP)--has many strengths. Both 
programs, for example, use inspection staff efficiently by prioritizing 
workload based on areas of highest risk and ensuring that corrective 
actions have been taken. However, the full potential of SEP is not 
being realized because the inspection workload for the 81 airlines 
included in SEP is heavily oriented to nonrisk based activities. Of 
additional concern is that recent and planned changes to transfer about 
100 airlines from SEP to ATOS will affect inspector workload that may 
affect FAA's capability to oversee the aviation industry. FAA leverages 
resources and saves money through its "designee" programs, in which 
individuals and organizations have been delegated to act on FAA's 
behalf to perform about 90 percent of certification-related activities. 
The designee program allows FAA to better concentrate its limited staff 
resources on the most safety-critical functions. However, planned 
changes to some designee programs that would create a new 
"organizational designation authorization" will result in FAA focusing 
on the performance of organizations rather than the individuals within 
the organization who carry out the delegated functions. As FAA moves 
from direct oversight of the individuals performing delegated 
activities, it will be important for the agency to have valid and 
reliable data and strong evaluative processes to monitor any program 
changes that have implications for safety. FAA's enforcement program, 
which is an outgrowth of its inspection process, is intended to ensure 
industry compliance with safety regulations and is another important 
element of its safety oversight system. A key objective of FAA's policy 
of assessing legal sanctions against entities or individuals that do 
not comply with aviation safety regulations is to deter future 
violations. However, we found that recommendations for sanctions are 
sometimes reduced on the basis of factors that are not associated with 
the merits of the case, and the economic literature on deterrence 
suggests that the goal of preventing future violations is weakened when 
the penalties for violations are lowered for reasons not related to the 
merits of the case. For fiscal years 1993 through 2003, we found that 
civil monetary penalties were reduced by 52 percent from a total of 
$334 million to $162 million. It is important for FAA to have effective 
evaluative processes and relevant data on its numerous safety programs 
so that the agency has assurance the programs are having their intended 
effect, especially as FAA's oversight becomes more indirect and as 
significant program changes are made. Our most recent work has shown 
the lack of evaluative processes and limitations with data for FAA's 
SEP program, designee programs, industry partnership programs, and 
enforcement program. 

* FAA has made training an integral part of its safety oversight system 
and has established mandatory training requirements for its workforce 
as well as designees, but several actions could improve the results of 
its training efforts. We have reported that FAA has generally followed 
effective management practices for planning, developing, delivering, 
and assessing the impact of its technical training for safety 
inspectors, although some practices are still early in the 
implementation phase. For example, in developing its training 
curriculum for inspectors, FAA followed effective management practices, 
such as developing courses that support changes in inspection 
procedures resulting from regulatory changes or agency initiatives. On 
the other hand, FAA develops technical courses on an ad hoc basis 
rather than as part of an overall curriculum for each type of 
inspector, such as inspectors of operations or cabin safety, because 
the agency has not systematically identified the technical skills and 
competencies each type of inspector needs to effectively perform 
inspections. FAA has recognized the need for improvements to its 
training program in this and other areas and has begun taking some 
action to address these and other training issues. 

* FAA faces a number of key safety challenges, including meeting its 
performance target for commercial air carrier safety, which it will not 
meet in fiscal year 2006 because of recent fatal accidents. The 
challenge of meeting its performance target will be exacerbated by 
other challenges in human capital management, the acquisition and 
operation of new safety enhancing technologies, and new types of 
vehicles, such as very light jets (VLJ), that may place additional 
workload strains on FAA inspectors and air traffic controllers. FAA's 
ability to oversee aviation safety will be affected by recent and 
anticipated trends in inspector and air traffic controller attrition. 
For example, FAA estimates it will lose 10,291, or about 70 percent of 
the controller workforce, over the next 10 years, primarily due to 
retirements. FAA intends to enhance runway safety by relying on new 
advanced technologies that are expected to reduce runway accidents. 
However, schedule delays and cost increases have affected FAA's ability 
to deploy this technology. Finally, if predictions about new types of 
aviation vehicles are borne out, it will change the aviation landscape 
and will require new areas of expertise for FAA's inspectors and 
controllers. For example, the industry predicts there may be as many as 
5,000 to 10,000 VLJs operating in the national airspace by 2020, which 
would further congest the national airspace system especially at and 
near smaller airports, where VLJs are expected to be prevalent because 
of their smaller size. 

Background: 

The U.S. commercial aviation industry, with less than one fatal 
accident per 5 million flights from 2002 through 2005 has an 
extraordinary safety record. However, when passenger airlines have 
accidents or serious incidents, regardless of their rarity, the 
consequences can be tragic. In addition, according to Bureau of 
Transportation Statistics data, flight arrival delays have increased 
from 15 percent in 2003 to 22 percent in 2006. Increases in flight 
delays can be viewed as evidence of strain in the aviation system, as a 
loss of efficiency in the air system is a symptom of increased strain. 
Losses of efficiency and the corresponding strain on the system could 
potentially result in hazards that decrease safety. In order to 
maintain a high level of aviation safety, it is critical to have well- 
established, efficient, and effective systems in place to provide an 
early warning of hazards that can lead to accidents. 

FAA has established a number of systems and processes to inspect and 
oversee various aspects of passenger airline safety, such as aircraft 
maintenance and flight operations. In 1998, the agency implemented the 
Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), which currently oversees 35 
commercial airlines and cargo carriers; the goal is for ATOS to oversee 
all commercial passenger and cargo airlines. ATOS emphasizes a system 
safety approach that extends beyond periodically checking airlines for 
compliance with regulations to using technical and managerial skills to 
identify, analyze, and control hazards and risks. For example, under 
ATOS, inspectors develop surveillance plans for each airline, based on 
data analysis and risk assessment, and adjust the plans periodically 
based on inspection results. Our review of ATOS's early implementation 
found weaknesses, which FAA addressed by improving guidance to 
inspectors and increasing data usefulness. 

FAA's inspection process for the 81 commercial airlines not covered by 
ATOS has two components. The National Work Program Guidelines (NPG) is 
the original oversight program for these airlines. Under NPG, an FAA- 
wide committee of managers identifies an annual minimum set of required 
inspections to ensure that airlines comply with their operating 
certificates; this process is not risk-based. In 2002, FAA added 
another component, the Surveillance and Evaluation Program (SEP), to 
the inspection process to incorporate principles of ATOS into its 
oversight of commercial airlines. The two components are used together 
to establish the number and types of annual inspections for airlines. 
Inspections can encompass many different activities, such as visually 
spot-checking an airplane at a gate, monitoring procedures on a 
scheduled flight, or observing maintenance performed on an aircraft. 
Each year, FAA headquarters establishes a baseline number and type of 
inspections for each airline through NPG. Through SEP, teams of FAA 
inspectors analyze the results of an airline's prior inspections at 
periodic meetings and, based on their assessment of specific risks, 
establish other inspections that may be needed. 

Since 1990, FAA has emphasized industry partnership programs that allow 
participants, such as airlines and pilots, to self-report violations of 
safety regulations and help identify safety deficiencies and 
potentially mitigate or avoid fines or other legal action. For example, 
the Voluntary Disclosure Program encourages the self-reporting of 
manufacturing problems and safety incidents by participants that can 
include air carriers and repair stations.[Footnote 1] 

When violations of statutory and regulatory requirements are identified 
through inspections, partnership programs, or other methods, FAA has a 
variety of enforcement tools that it may use to respond to the 
violations, including administrative actions (such as issuing a warning 
notice or a letter of correction that includes the corrective actions 
the violator is to take) and legal sanctions (such as levying a fine or 
suspending or revoking a pilot's certificate or other FAA-issued 
certificate). 

The achievement of FAA's mission is dependent in large part on the 
skills and expertise of its workforce, whose aviation safety activities 
include air traffic control, maintenance of air traffic control 
equipment, and certification and inspection of various industry 
participants. As of 2006, 714 of FAA's approximately 3,400 inspectors 
were dedicated to overseeing the 35 airlines in ATOS. Approximately 
1,100 inspectors[Footnote 2] oversee other entities and individuals, 
including the remaining 81 commercial airlines that are included in the 
SEP inspection program, about 5,200 aircraft repair stations, and 
approximately 625,000 pilots. FAA's safety oversight programs for other 
aspects of the aviation industry--including manufacturers of aircraft 
and aircraft parts, repair stations, flight schools, aviation 
maintenance technician schools, pilots, and mechanics--involve 
certification, surveillance, and inspection by FAA's safety inspectors, 
engineers, flight surgeons, and designated representatives. FAA 
authorizes about 13,400 private individuals and 218 organizations 
(called "designees") to act as its representatives to conduct many 
safety certification activities that FAA considers to be nonsafety 
critical, such as administering flight tests to pilots, inspecting 
repair work by maintenance facilities, conducting medical examinations 
of pilots, and approving designs for aircraft parts. These designees 
are grouped into 18 different programs and are overseen by three FAA 
offices--Flight Standards Service, Aerospace Medicine, and Aircraft 
Certification Service--all of which are under the Office of Aviation 
Safety. In addition, FAA's Air Traffic Organization (ATO) includes the 
approximately 16,700 air traffic controller workforce[Footnote 3] and 
nearly 7,200 field maintenance technicians responsible for maintaining 
ATO's equipment and facilities, which include 21 air traffic control 
centers, 518 airport control towers, and 76 flight service facilities. 

While overall commercial aviation safety trends have been generally 
positive over the last several years, recent safety trends may warrant 
scrutiny. On the positive side, the number of serious runway 
incursions[Footnote 4] has decreased since fiscal year 2002. 
Specifically, in fiscal year 2002, there were 37 serious runway 
incursions, compared with 29 in fiscal year 2005. Recent fiscal year 
2006 data also continue the downward trend, with 25 serious runway 
incursions as of August 1, 2006--fewer than at the same time in the 
previous fiscal year. However, with four fatal accidents in fiscal year 
2006,[Footnote 5] FAA will not meet its performance target for fiscal 
year 2006 for commercial air carrier safety.[Footnote 6] Although 
general aviation accidents have decreased from 1,715 in 2002 to 1,669 
in 2005, general aviation safety continues to be a concern because it 
represents a significant number of fatal accidents every year. (See 
fig. 1.) For example, 321 of the 1,669 general aviation accidents in 
2005 were fatal. Additionally, the poorer safety records of cargo and 
air ambulances services, compared with the commercial passenger airline 
accident rate, point out the safety vulnerabilities in this area. 
According to FAA, from 1998 through 2005, the accident rate for 
scheduled air cargo operators declined significantly, but was still 
about 2.5 times higher than the accident rate for scheduled passenger 
operators. Further, in instances where there was not an isolated injury 
to a single individual, the accident rate for cargo was about 6.3 times 
higher than for commercial passenger aviation.[Footnote 7] In addition, 
from January 2002 to January 2005, there were 55 emergency medical 
services or air ambulance accidents, with 54 fatalities, the highest 
number of accidents since the 1980s.[Footnote 8] In addition, FAA did 
not meet its performance target with regard to operational 
errors[Footnote 9] for fiscal years 2003 through 2005. While 
operational errors continued an upward trend in 2006, FAA was below the 
fiscal year 2006 target of 4.27 operational errors per million 
activities as of June 2006. 

Figure 1: Number of General Aviation Accidents and Fatalities, 2000 
through 2005: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: NTSB. 

[End of Figure] 

FAA's Safety Oversight System Includes Programs That Focus on Risk 
Management and Leveraging Resources, but System Is Hindered by Data 
Limitations and Lack of Evaluations: 

FAA's safety oversight system has programs that focus on identifying 
and mitigating risk through a system safety approach, leveraging 
resources, and enforcing safety regulations, but the programs lack 
fully developed evaluative processes. As mentioned previously, FAA 
oversees commercial airlines by one of two programs--ATOS, which 
includes 35 airlines, and SEP, which includes the remaining 81 
airlines. Both programs emphasize a system safety approach of using 
risk analysis techniques, which allow for the efficient use of 
inspection staff and resources by prioritizing workload based on areas 
of highest risk and require that inspectors verify that corrective 
actions are taken. For example, FAA has developed risk assessment 
worksheets for both programs that guide inspectors through identifying 
and prioritizing risks associated with key airline areas, such as 
flight operations and personnel training. Information from the 
worksheets is then used to target resources to mitigating those risks. 

In recent work we found that the benefits of FAA's system safety 
approach for the inspection of airlines covered under SEP could be 
enhanced if FAA more completely implemented the program and addressed 
other challenges.[Footnote 10] Most of FAA's inspections of those 
airlines were not risk-based. For example, as shown in figure 2 from 
fiscal years 2002 through 2004, SEP--a risk-based approach--guided only 
23 percent of the inspection activities for the top 25 SEP airlines in 
terms of the number of enplanements. The remaining 77 percent of 
inspection activities were identified through NPG, a process that is 
not risk-based or system safety oriented. Although inspectors can 
replace NPG-identified activities with SEP-identified activities that 
they deem address a greater safety risk, we found that FAA inspectors 
interpret agency emphasis on NPG as discouraging this practice. To 
address this issue, we recommended that FAA improve communication with 
and training of inspectors in areas of system safety and risk 
management. In response to our recommendations, FAA revised its 
guidelines to require inspectors and managers to ensure that risk 
information is used and updated its SEP training course to reflect that 
change. Since FAA's focus on system safety represents a cultural shift 
in the way the agency oversees the aviation industry, it will be 
important for FAA to monitor the implementation of system safety and 
risk management principles. We recommended that FAA establish a 
continuous evaluative process for its activities under SEP, but the 
agency does not intend to set up a process since it expects to 
eliminate the SEP program after December 2007, which is its deadline 
for moving all commercial airlines to the ATOS program. If the deadline 
slips, we believe our recommendation remains valid. 

Figure 2: SEP-and NPG-Initiated Required Inspections for the Top 
Airlines Covered by the Programs, Fiscal Years 2002-2004: 

Type of inspection: SEP-initiated; 
2002: 1,261; 
2003: 1,567; 
2004: 927; 
Total: 3,755 (23%). 

Type of inspection: NPG-initiated; 
2002: 5,470; 
2003: 3,623; 
2004: 3,338; 
Total: 12,431 (77%). 

Type of inspection: Total; 
2002: 6,731; 
2003: 5,190; 
2004: 4,265; 
Total: 16,186 (100%). 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA information. 

Note: Top airlines ranked in terms of number of enplanements. 

[End of Figure] 

Furthermore, FAA's plans to dissolve the SEP program after moving all 
commercial airlines to ATOS will shift the inspectors workloads and 
present a challenge to FAA's inspection oversight process. As FAA 
shifts airlines to ATOS, it will also move inspectors to the program. 
Unlike SEP inspectors, ATOS inspectors are dedicated to an airline and 
generally cannot be used to inspect other entities. SEP inspectors, on 
the other hand, have other duties in addition to overseeing airlines-- 
such as certifying and approving aircraft types; overseeing repair 
stations, designees, and aviation schools; and investigating accidents. 
For example, our analysis of FAA data indicated that, for fiscal years 
2002 through 2004, about 75 percent of SEP inspectors had 
responsibility for more than 3 entities, and about half had 
responsibility for more than 15. As inspectors are transitioned to 
ATOS, the remaining SEP inspector workforce will have to add those 
other entities to their workload. Furthermore, ATOS requires more 
inspectors per airline than SEP. For example, when FAA recently 
transitioned four airlines to ATOS,[Footnote 11] the total size of the 
four inspection teams increased 30 percent, from 73 to 95 inspectors. 
With the expansion of the ATOS program, it will be important to monitor 
the magnitude of the shift in resources and the effect it may have on 
FAA's overall capability to oversee the industry as well as any changes 
to the current ATOS program that may be required by the 
expansion.[Footnote 12] 

FAA's Oversight Focuses on Leveraging Inspector Resources, Which 
Results in Less Direct Oversight of the Industry: 

An important part of FAA's safety oversight system are designee 
programs, through which FAA authorizes about 13,400 private individuals 
and 218 organizations to act on its behalf to conduct safety 
certification activities that FAA considers to be non-safety critical. 
We reported that designees perform about 90 percent of certification- 
related activities, thus greatly leveraging the agency's resources and 
enabling inspectors to concentrate on what FAA considers the most 
safety-critical activities.[Footnote 13] However, concerns about the 
consistency and adequacy of designee oversight by FAA have been raised 
by experts and other individuals we interviewed. For example, designees 
and industry officials that we spoke with indicated that FAA's level of 
oversight and interpretation of rules differ among regions and among 
offices within a region, which limits FAA's assurance that designees' 
work is performed uniformly in accordance with FAA's standards and 
policy, the primary goal of which is the safety of U.S. aviation. To 
improve management control of the designee programs, and thus increase 
assurance that designees meet FAA's performance standards, we 
recommended that FAA develop mechanisms to improve the compliance of 
FAA program and field offices with existing policies. In response to 
our recommendations, FAA has, among other things, established a 
designee quality assurance office to address inconsistent and 
nonstandard oversight issues among offices. FAA has also developed a 
survey that will collect information from individuals who recently 
worked with designees, such as pilots who recently received their 
license through a designee, to gather information that can be used to 
continually improve designee programs. 

To increase FAA's assurance that its designees are meeting FAA's safety 
standards, it will be important for FAA to continue these activities, 
which are in the early stages of development or implementation, 
especially as the agency moves to replace certain designee programs 
with an organizational designation authorization (ODA). ODA would 
expand the number and types of organizational designees and further 
transform FAA's role to that of monitoring the performance of others. 
In October 2005, FAA issued a final rule that established the ODA 
program and provides for the phasing out of organizational designees by 
November 2009. By that time, the current 218 organizational designees 
will have to apply for and be granted status as an ODA.[Footnote 14] In 
August 2006, FAA issued an order that establishes procedures for the 
ODA program, including the capability to expand the activities that may 
be delegated out. Under the program, FAA will focus on the performance 
of organizations rather than the individuals within the organization 
who carry out the delegated functions. As FAA makes these changes to 
its designee programs that remove FAA from direct oversight of the 
individuals performing the delegated activities, it will be important 
for the agency to adhere to its policy of using designees only for less 
safety-critical work. It will also be important for FAA to have the 
data and evaluative processes, which we discuss later in this 
testimony, to effectively monitor the new program. 

FAA is also becoming increasingly removed from overseeing airline 
maintenance. In recent years, in an attempt to reduce costs, airlines 
have increasingly contracted out maintenance. For example in 2000, 44 
percent of major air carriers' maintenance expenses were attributable 
to outsourcing; in 2004, it had increased to 54 percent. However, FAA's 
inspection activities have remained focused on air carriers' in-house 
maintenance, according to DOT's Inspector General.[Footnote 15] 

Enforcement Is an Important Element of FAA's Safety Oversight System, 
but Deterrent Effect of Sanctions Is Unclear: 

FAA's enforcement process, which is intended to ensure industry 
compliance with safety regulations, is another important element of its 
safety oversight system. FAA assesses legal sanctions against entities 
or individuals that do not comply with aviation safety regulations. 
Such sanctions are intended to deter future violations. However, we 
found that the effect of FAA's legal sanctions on deterrence is 
unclear, and that recommendations for sanctions are sometimes changed 
on the basis of factors not associated with the merits of the 
case.[Footnote 16] For fiscal years 1993 through 2003, attorneys in 
FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel authorized a 52 percent reduction in 
the civil monetary penalties assessed (from a total of $334 million to 
$162 million). FAA officials told us the agency sometimes negotiate 
lower fines, thereby reducing sanctions to close cases more quickly and 
reduce FAA attorneys' caseloads. Economic literature on deterrence 
suggests that although negative sanctions (such as fines and 
certificate suspensions) can deter violations, if violators expect 
sanctions to be reduced, they may have less incentive to comply with 
regulations. In effect, it becomes more difficult to achieve the goal 
of preventing future violations when the penalties for present 
violations are lowered for reasons not related to the merits of the 
case. 

Recent changes that FAA has made to its enforcement program may lead to 
more uniformly set fines and, thus, potentially less need to revise 
fines. Prior to September 2005, the initial recommendation to use 
administrative actions (such as warning notices and letter of 
correction) or legal sanctions (such as fines or suspension of 
operating certificates) was based on the judgment of the inspectors. If 
inspectors recommended a legal sanction, they then consulted FAA's 
sanction guidance policy to determine the amount of the proposed 
penalty. In September 2005, FAA adopted changes to its enforcement 
program that incorporated system safety risk management principles and 
established explicit criteria for inspectors to use in making an 
initial enforcement recommendation. As soon as FAA investigators have 
gathered sufficient information to categorize the safety risk and the 
conduct (i.e., whether it was intentional, reckless, or systemic), they 
prepare a risk statement that describes the hazard created by the act 
and the potential consequence of that hazard. An example of a risk 
statement is "an aircraft that operates in Class B airspace without a 
clearance providing separation from other aircraft could cause a mid- 
air collision." The investigators then review the risk statement to 
determine the severity of the hazard (using a scale of catastrophic, 
critical, marginal, or negligible) and the likelihood of the worst 
credible outcome (using a scale of frequent, occasional, or remote). 
Based on these assessments, investigators apply a decision tool that 
determines the type of action (legal or administrative) to take against 
an individual or business. Inspectors no longer have the responsibility 
of recommending a specific fine level. It is too early to determine if 
these changes to the enforcement program have resulted in a more 
uniform application of penalties and fewer penalty reductions. 

Data Limitations and Lack of Evaluations Limit FAA's Ability to Manage 
Risk and Are Particularly Critical as FAA's Oversight Becomes More 
Indirect: 

Effective processes for evaluating FAA's safety oversight programs, 
along with accurate nationwide data on those programs would provide 
FAA's program managers and other officials with assurance that the 
programs are having their intended effect, especially as FAA's 
oversight becomes more indirect. Such processes and data are also 
important because FAA's workforce is dispersed worldwide--with 
thousands of staff working out of more than 100 local offices--and 
because FAA's use of a risk-based system safety approach represents a 
cultural shift from its traditional inspection program. The experiences 
of successful transformations and change management initiatives in 
large public and private organizations suggest that it can take 5 to 7 
years or more until such initiatives are fully implemented and cultures 
are transformed in a sustainable manner. As a result, evaluation is 
important to understanding if the cultural shift has effectively 
occurred. Our most recent work has shown that FAA had not evaluated its 
safety programs, and we recommended that the agency establish 
continuous evaluative processes for the SEP program, designee programs, 
industry partnership programs, and enforcement program. FAA has made 
recent progress in implementing some of these recommendations. For 
example, FAA has scheduled audits of all its designee programs, to be 
completed by the end of fiscal year 2009, and established a delegation 
steering group that first met in August 2006 and will be responsible 
for agencywide monitoring of the designee programs for compliance with 
program policies and evaluating the effectiveness of the designee 
programs. Additionally, as FAA implements its new enforcement policy, 
it has established procedures to monitor the new policy on a quarterly 
basis and to recommend process improvements based on the information 
collected. However, FAA does not plan to evaluate the SEP program 
because it intends to discontinue the program after December 2007. 

Yet, FAA's ability to evaluate its programs is hindered by its lack of 
useful nationwide data. For example, we found that FAA's oversight of 
designees was hampered, in part, by the limited information of 
designee's performance contained in the various designee 
databases.[Footnote 17] These databases contain descriptive information 
on designees, such as their types of designations and status (i.e., 
active or terminated). More complete information would allow the agency 
to gain a comprehensive picture of whether staff are carrying out their 
responsibilities to oversee designees. To improve management control of 
the designee programs, and thus increase assurance that designees meet 
the agency's performance standards, we recommended that FAA improve the 
consistency and completeness of information in the designee databases. 
To address this recommendation, FAA has established the Designee 
Integration User Group, which expects to begin work in September 2006 
on an automated information tool that will track data on all designees. 
We also found problems with the accuracy or completeness of data in the 
SEP and enforcement programs, which FAA has recently taken steps to 
begin addressing. 

Training Is an Integral Part of FAA's Safety Oversight System, but 
Several Actions Could Improve Results: 

FAA's use of a risk-based system safety approach to inspections 
requires inspectors to apply data analysis and auditing skills to 
identify, analyze, assess, and control potential hazards and risks. To 
effectively identify safety risks, inspectors must be well-trained in 
the system-safety approach and have sufficient knowledge of 
increasingly complex aircraft, aircraft parts, and systems. It is also 
important that FAA's large cadre of designees is well-trained in 
federal aviation regulations and FAA policies. FAA has made training an 
integral part of its safety inspection system by establishing mandatory 
training requirements for its workforce as well as designees. Although 
FAA provides inspectors with extensive training in federal aviation 
regulations; inspection and investigative techniques; and technical 
skills, such as flight training for operations inspectors, we have 
identified weaknesses with the training program. The agency provides 
designees with an initial indoctrination that covers federal 
regulations and agency policies, and refresher training every 2 to 3 
years. 

We have reported that FAA has generally followed effective management 
practices for planning, developing, delivering, and assessing the 
impact of its technical training[Footnote 18] for safety inspectors, 
although some practices have yet to be fully implemented.[Footnote 19] 
Appendix I describes the extent to which FAA follows effective 
management practices in each of these four areas. Some examples follow: 

* In developing its training curriculum for inspectors, FAA has 
developed courses that support changes in inspection procedures 
resulting from regulatory change or agency initiatives. On the other 
hand, FAA develops technical courses on an ad hoc basis rather than as 
part of an overall curriculum for each inspector specialty--such as air 
carrier operations, maintenance, and cabin safety--because the agency 
has not systematically identified the technical skills and competencies 
each type of inspector needs to effectively perform inspections. 

* In delivering training, FAA has established clear accountability for 
ensuring that inspectors have access to technical training, has 
developed a way for inspectors to choose courses that meet job needs 
and further professional development, and offers a wide array of 
technical and other courses. However, both FAA and its inspectors 
recognize the need for more timely selection of inspectors for 
technical training. 

To address some of these issues, we recommended, among other things, 
that FAA ensure that inspector technical training needs are identified 
and met in a timely manner by systematically assessing inspectors' 
technical training needs and better aligning the timeliness of training 
to when inspectors need the training to do their jobs. In addition, we 
have identified gaps in the training provided to SEP inspectors, and 
have recommended that FAA improve inspectors' training in areas such as 
system safety and risk management to ensure that these inspectors have 
a complete and timely understanding of FAA's policies in these areas. 
We identified similar competency gaps related to designee oversight. 
For example, FAA does not require refresher training on how to oversee 
designees, which increases the risk that inspectors do not retain the 
information, skills, and competencies required to perform their 
oversight responsibilities. We recommended that FAA provide additional 
training for staff who directly oversee designees. 

FAA has begun to address these recommendations. For example, FAA plans 
to release five Web-based courses by the end of 2006, which will allow 
the agency to provide training closer to the time that employees need 
it. Also, FAA has instituted an electronic learning management system 
that provides for employee input to their own learning plans. FAA has 
also updated the SEP training course to reflect recent policy changes 
that emphasize the importance of risk management. Finally, FAA has 
begun developing a new designee oversight training course that is 
planned to be ready by the summer of 2007. 

It is important that FAA's inspection workforce, designees, and FAA- 
certified aviation mechanics are knowledgeable about the latest 
technology changes. While we did not attempt to assess the technical 
proficiency that FAA's workforce requires and will require in the near 
future, FAA officials said that inspectors do not need a substantial 
amount of technical training courses because inspectors are hired with 
a high degree of technical knowledge of aircraft and aircraft systems. 
They further indicated that inspectors can sufficiently keep abreast of 
many of the changes in aviation technology through FAA and industry 
training courses and on-the-job training. Similarly, we did not 
identify any specific gaps in the competencies of designees. However, 
in its certification program for aviation mechanics, we found that FAA 
standards for minimum requirements for aviation courses at FAA-approved 
aviation maintenance technician schools and its requirements for FAA- 
issued mechanics certificates do not keep abreast with the latest 
technologies. In 2003, we reported that those standards had not been 
updated in more than 50 years.[Footnote 20] We recommended that FAA 
review the curriculum and certification requirements and update both. 
In response to this recommendation, Vision 100--Century of Aviation 
Reauthorization Act, which was passed December 12, 2003, required FAA 
to update the standards 1 year after enactment of the law and to 
conduct reviews and updates every 3 years after the initial update. FAA 
issued an Advisory Circular in January 2005 that described suggested 
curriculum changes; however, the agency has not updated the 
certification requirements for mechanics. 

FAA Faces a Number of Challenges in Overseeing Aviation Safety: 

FAA faces a number of key safety challenges, including meeting its 
performance target for commercial air carrier safety, which it will not 
meet in fiscal year 2006 because of recent fatal accidents. With four 
fatal commercial air carrier accidents in fiscal year 2006, the agency 
will not meet its target of 0.018 fatal accidents per 100,000 
departures.[Footnote 21] Moreover, for the past 3 years, FAA did not 
meet its performance target for severe operational errors, which occur 
when aircraft do not maintain safe distances in the air; as of June 
2006, the agency was slightly below its target level of 4.27 severe 
operational errors per million activities. In addition, although 
general aviation accidents have, on the whole, decreased in recent 
years, general aviation safety is also a concern because of the large 
number of fatal accidents every year--an average of 334 fatal accidents 
have occurred annually since 2000. Furthermore, other industry sectors, 
such as cargo operations[Footnote 22] and on-demand air 
ambulances,[Footnote 23] have poor safety records, as mentioned 
earlier. It will be important for FAA to develop the appropriate 
strategies to deal with the challenges posed by these safety records 
and to continuously monitor safety information to identify trends and 
early warnings of other safety problems. 

Also as described earlier, FAA also faces a number of challenges to 
several of its oversight programs. Specifically, FAA's rapid expansion 
of ATOS, by transferring about 100 airlines and additional inspectors 
to the program over about 2 years, will cause shifts in inspector 
workload that may affect the agency's ability to oversee other parts of 
the industry. Furthermore, some activities, such as FAA's creation of 
ODAs and the trend for airlines to outsource maintenance, will remove 
FAA from direct oversight. It will be important for FAA to have robust 
data and continuous evaluative processes to monitor such activities and 
program changes in order to ensure they are not having a negative 
effect on safety. 

Meeting the challenges posed by recent safety trends and program 
changes will be exacerbated by other challenges in human capital 
management; the acquisition and operation of new safety enhancing 
technologies; and new types of vehicles, such as very light jets (VLJ), 
that may place additional workload strains on FAA inspectors and air 
traffic controllers. 

FAA Faces Challenges in Human Resources: 

FAA's ability to oversee aviation safety will be affected by recent and 
anticipated trends in attrition of its inspectors compounded, in some 
cases, by delays in hiring and increased workload. For example, for 
fiscal years 2005 through 2010, FAA estimated that over 1,100 safety 
inspectors who oversee commercial airlines and general aviation will 
leave the agency, with an average loss due to attrition of about 195 
inspectors per year. However, FAA's efforts to hire more inspectors 
have been hindered by a budget situation in 2005 that resulted in a 
hiring freeze during part of that year. During the hiring freeze, FAA 
filled safety-critical positions, such as principal inspectors, through 
internal appointments. As other safety inspectors left, they were not 
replaced and their workload was divided among the remaining inspectors. 

Concerned about the need for additional safety inspectors, for fiscal 
year 2006, Congress provided additional funding over the budget request 
to FAA with the expectation that the funding would increase the safety 
staff by 248. This increase in funding would allow for hiring an 
additional 182 safety inspectors in Aviation Flight Standards (AFS) and 
an additional 66 inspectors and engineers in Aircraft Certification 
Service (AIR). However, as a result of a rescission and unfunded pay 
raises for fiscal year 2006, FAA lacks the funds to hire 67 staff of 
the expected 248 new staff. As a result, FAA's revised hiring target is 
139 AFS staff and 42 AIR staff. As of August 2006, FAA has hired an 
additional 25 AFS and 28 AIR staff. (See fig. 3.) According to FAA, it 
has a pipeline of applicants and expects to reach its goal of filling 
the 181 slots by the end of the fiscal year. However, the actual number 
of aviation safety inspector slots needed is unknown, because FAA lacks 
staffing standards for safety inspectors. The National Academy of 
Sciences, under a congressional mandate, has just completed a study for 
FAA to estimate staffing standards for inspectors to ensure proper 
oversight over the aviation industry. 

Figure 3: Number of Additional Staff for AFS and AIR, Fiscal Year 2006: 

Office: AFS; 
Additional staff funded by Congress: 182; 
FAA revised target: 139; 
Hired as of August 2006: 25. 

Office: AIR; 
Additional staff funded by Congress: 66; 
FAA revised target: 42; 
Hired as of August 2006: 28. 

Office: Total; 
Additional staff funded by Congress: 248; 
FAA revised target: 181; 
Hired as of August 2006: 53. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA information. 

[End of Figure] 

During the coming decade, FAA will need to hire and train thousands of 
air traffic controllers to replace those who will retire and leave for 
other reasons. FAA estimates it will lose 10,291 controllers, or about 
70 percent of the controller workforce, for fiscal years 2006 through 
2015, primarily due to retirements.[Footnote 24] To replace these 
controllers and to accommodate forecasted increases in air traffic and 
expected productivity increases, FAA plans to hire a total of 11,800 
new controllers over the next 10 years, or 1,180 per year, on 
average.[Footnote 25] By the end of fiscal year 2006, FAA expects to 
hire 930 controllers. As of August 2006, FAA had hired 920. Figure 4 
shows the estimated losses each year as well as the number of planned 
hires. 

Figure 4: Estimated Controller Losses and Planned Hires, Fiscal Years 
2006-2015: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FAA. 

[End of Figure] 

Recent events may exacerbate the staffing situation. New data indicate 
that controllers are retiring at a faster rate than FAA anticipated. In 
its 2004 workforce report, FAA projected 341 retirements for fiscal 
year 2005; 465 controllers actually retired--36 percent more than FAA's 
estimate. In addition, a new contract with the air traffic controllers 
union was recently implemented by FAA after lengthy negotiations. Under 
this new contract, most current air traffic controllers would continue 
to receive their existing base salaries and benefits, which may remove 
a financial incentive to continue working past their retirement 
eligibility date, while newly hired controllers would be hired at lower 
wage rates, which may affect FAA's ability to hire new controllers. FAA 
has maintained that this contract will result in significant cost 
savings, freeing up resources for other critical agency needs. It is 
too soon to know what effect, if any, the new contract may have on 
retirement decisions. 

In addition to the challenge of hiring large numbers of controllers, 
FAA will face a challenge in training its new hires expeditiously so 
that it can plan to have the right number of controllers in the right 
facilities when they are needed. According to FAA, its ability to train 
the new controllers depends upon several factors, including hiring a 
relatively even number of controllers each year, reducing the time it 
takes to hire a controller, and reducing the duration of training. FAA 
estimates that because of the long training time, it must hire enroute 
controllers[Footnote 26] an average of 3 to 5 years in advance of when 
they are needed. FAA is taking actions to address these issues. For 
example, in line with our recommendation, a recent change to the 
training program allows individuals who complete collegiate 
requirements under the Air Traffic Collegiate Training 
Initiative[Footnote 27] to bypass the first 5 weeks of initial FAA 
Academy training required for controllers. 

FAA also faces the challenge of ensuring that control facilities have 
adequate staffing based on their unique traffic demands and the 
accuracy of FAA's retirement forecast. Historically, FAA has computed 
staffing standards, which are the number of controllers needed on a 
systemwide basis, but distribution of these totals to the facility 
level was a negotiated process. The staffing standards did not take 
into account the significant differences in complexity and workload 
among FAA's 300 terminal and enroute control facilities, which can lead 
to staffing imbalances. FAA has begun developing and implementing new 
staffing standards that use an algorithm that incorporates traffic 
levels and complexity of traffic at the facility level to determine the 
number of controllers needed, according to an FAA official. As FAA 
further refines its process for determining controller staffing needs, 
the ultimate objective is to assess the traffic level and complexity on 
a sector-by-sector basis to develop more accurate controller staffing 
requirements. 

FAA Faces Challenges in Implementing Advanced Technology to Increase 
Air Traffic Safety: 

To enhance runway safety, FAA intends to rely on new technologies-- 
beginning with the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) and 
Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model X (ASDE-X)--that are expected 
to reduce runway accidents.[Footnote 28] AMASS and ASDE-X are 
instrumental in mitigating runway incursions and operational errors. 
However, FAA faces challenges--such as a reduced number of airports 
scheduled to receive the equipment, schedule delays, and cost 
increases--that affect its reliance on the technologies. 

FAA's original plans called for 34 airports to receive AMASS[Footnote 
29] and 35 airports to receive ASDE-X (see app. II).[Footnote 30] In 
total, 59 airports were to receive one or both technologies, but this 
number was reduced to 44 in August 2006 after FAA canceled plans to 
deploy ASDE-X at 15 of the originally scheduled airports. FAA plans to 
take these 15 systems and upgrade certain airports that already have 
AMASS based on the rationale that maximum benefit is achieved by 
deploying ASDE-X to airports with larger traffic counts or more complex 
operations. This decision leaves 15 airports (see fig. 5) that were 
supposed to receive ASDE-X without either advanced technology system. 
Since the anticipated future increase in air traffic from commuter 
airlines and very light jets are likely to be at smaller airports that 
lack the advanced technologies, it will be important for FAA to 
periodically re-evaluate its deployment strategy. 

Figure 5: Airports Scheduled to Receive ASDE-X before Deployment Was 
Canceled by FAA: 

List of airports: 

Airport: 

Albuquerque International Sunport Airport; 
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; 
Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport; 
Port Columbus International Airport (Columbus, OH); 
Colorado Springs Municipal Airport; 
Indianapolis International Airport; 
Metropolitan Oakland International Airport; 
Ontario International Airport (Ontario, CA); 
Raleigh-Durham International Airport; 
Reno/Tahoe International Airport; 
San Antonio International Airport; 
San Jose International Airport; 
San Juan International Airport; 
Sacramento International Airport; 
Tampa International Airport. 

[End of Figure] 

In addition to reducing the number of facilities selected to receive 
the newer technology, FAA has amended the cost and extended the 
implementation dates for the ASDE-X program (see fig. 6). The 35 ASDE- 
X systems were originally scheduled to be implemented by 2007. As of 
August 2006, FAA had moved that date to 2011. FAA estimates the total 
facilities and equipment cost of the ASDE-X program at about $550 
million, which is approximately $40 million more than we reported in 
2005.[Footnote 31] The costs of these new technologies mean that they 
may never be deployed at all airports; therefore, it will be important 
for FAA to continue prioritizing and maximizing its resources. 

Figure 6: Changes in Cost and Schedule Targets for ASDE-X: 

Dollars in millions. 

Cost Targets; 
2001 estimate: $424.3; 
2005 estimate: $510.2; 
Current estimate, 2006: $549.8. 

Last-site implementation targets; 
2001 estimate: 2007; 
2005 estimate: 2009; 
Current estimate, 2006: 2011. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA information. 

[End of Figure] 

FAA Faces Challenges in Having Controllers Prepared for the Next 
Generation Air Transportation System: 

To ensure a national airspace system that is safe, efficient, and 
capable of meeting a growing demand of air transportation that is 
expected to triple by 2025, the Joint Planning and Development Office 
(JPDO) was created within FAA to plan for and coordinate the longer- 
term transformation to the "next generation air transportation system" 
(NGATS). JPDO was created in 2003 to develop an integrated plan for 
NGATS and to include in the plan, among other things, a description of 
the demand and required performance characteristics of the future 
system, as well as a high-level, multiagency road map and concept of 
operations for the future system. 

FAA and JPDO face the challenge of adequately involving stakeholders in 
the development of NGATS to ensure that the system meets users' needs, 
especially air traffic controllers who will be end users of the new 
technology and responsible for using it to maximize safety and 
efficiency. In the past, air traffic controllers were permanently 
assigned to FAA's major system acquisition program offices and provided 
input into air traffic control modernization projects. In June 2005, 
FAA terminated this arrangement because of budget constraints. 
According to FAA, it now plans to obtain the subject-matter expertise 
of air traffic controllers or other stakeholders as needed in major 
system acquisitions. It remains to be seen whether this approach will 
be sufficient to avoid problems such as FAA experienced when inadequate 
stakeholder involvement in the development of new air traffic 
controller workstations (known as the Standard Terminal Automation 
Replacement System (STARS)) contributed to unplanned work, significant 
cost growth, and schedule delays.[Footnote 32] 

FAA's Inspector and Controller Workload Will Be Challenged by Emerging 
Industries and Established Sectors That May Need More Safety Oversight: 

The changing aviation landscape poses further challenges for FAA. It is 
expected that within the next few years several hundred VLJs[Footnote 
33] will be in operation. FAA estimates that if 2 percent of airline 
passengers switch to VLJs, air traffic controllers will have to handle 
three times more take-offs and landings than currently. Additionally, 
the industry predicts there may be as many as 5,000 to 10,000 VLJs 
operating in the national airspace system by 2020. VLJ manufacturers 
are reporting advance sales of thousands of these new jets, their 
customers include air taxis, charter operators, and private owners. In 
July 2006, FAA granted the first provisional certificate for a VLJ to 
Eclipse Aviation Corporation. The provisional certificate allows 
existing planes to be flown, but new ones cannot be delivered to 
customers until the FAA grants a type certificate. According to Eclipse 
Aviation, it has orders for over 2,350 aircrafts. DayJet, which 
provides on-demand jet service, expects to be operating 50 Eclipse VLJs 
by the end of 2007. In September 2006, FAA granted the first type 
certificate to Cessna Aircraft Company. (See fig. 7.) Five other 
companies are in the process of being issued certificates by FAA. If 
this sector expands as quickly as expected, FAA inspectors could face 
workload challenges to expeditiously issue and monitor certificates. In 
addition, air traffic controllers could face the challenge of further 
congested air space, especially at and near smaller airports, where 
VLJs are expected to be prevalent because of their smaller size and 
shorter runway requirements. 

Figure 7: Cessna's Citation Mustang VLJ: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FAA. 

[End of Figure] 

Unmanned aerial vehicles[Footnote 34] (UAV) are another emerging sector 
that will add to FAA's workload and may require additional FAA 
expertise. While historically UAVs have been used primarily by the 
Department of Defense in military settings outside the United States, 
there is growing demand to operate UAVs domestically in the national 
airspace system. (See fig. 8.) Federal agencies such as the Customs and 
Border Protection Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency 
and state and local law enforcement agencies are interested in UAVs for 
purposes such as border security, search and rescue, firefighting, and 
other law enforcement and homeland security initiatives. Some of these 
activities are taking place today. For example, Customs conducts 
surveillance along the border with Mexico. UAVs are also an emerging 
sector of the commercial aviation industry, and possible commercial 
uses include fire detection and firefighting management, digital 
mapping, communications and broadcast services, and environmental 
research and air quality management control. Currently, few regulations 
or guidelines exist for UAVs or UAV-related technology. FAA issues a 
certificate of authorization for the operation of a UAV and the 
airspace is restricted during the period of operation.[Footnote 35] In 
2006, FAA has issue 62 certificates of authorization for UAVs and 
another 35 applications are pending review. FAA is receiving numerous 
inquiries from federal agencies, and from local, county, and state 
governments about how to operate UAVs in the national airspace system. 
FAA has established an Unmanned Aircraft Program Office, responsible 
for developing the regulatory framework and plan for the safe 
integration of UAVs into the national airspace system. FAA faces the 
challenge of working with industry to develop consensus standards for 
command and control redundancies in case there is a disruption in 
communication with the UAV, and detect and avoid capabilities so that 
UAVs can sense and avoid other aircraft. Such standards will be 
necessary before UAVs can be routinely integrated into the national 
airspace system. Until UAVs are completely integrated into the national 
airspace system, FAA will continue to evaluate each flight on a case- 
by-case basis, adding to the agency's workload. 

Figure 8: U.S. Air Force's Global Hawk UAV: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: Department of Defense. 

[End of Figure] 

Space tourism is an additional emerging sector that FAA is beginning to 
respond to. Tourist launches are expected to take place at inland 
locations and may have more impact on the national airspace system than 
previous unmanned commercial space launches, which occurred at federal 
launch sites near or over oceans. While UAVs pose a learning curve for 
safety inspectors, engineers, and air traffic controllers, space 
tourism launches pose a learning curve for FAA's commercial space 
engineers who are responsible for licensing and monitoring commercial 
space launches and nonfederal launch sites (called spaceports). The 
prospect for commercial space tourism materialized in 2004 when 
SpaceShipOne, developed by Scaled Composites, flew to space twice, 
achieving a peak altitude of about 70 miles to win the Ansari X 
Prize.[Footnote 36] Several entrepreneurial launch companies are 
planning to start taking paying passengers on suborbital flights within 
the next few years. Virgin Galactic intends to enter commercial 
suborbital space flight service around 2008, launching from a spaceport 
in New Mexico, and according to the company, plans to carry 3,000 
passengers over 5 years, with 100 individuals having already paid the 
full fare of $200,000. Several other companies, including former Ansari 
X Prize competitors, continue to develop their vehicles for space 
tourism. Several spaceports are being developed to accommodate 
anticipated commercial space tourism flights and are expanding the 
nation's launch capacity. As of August 2006, the United States had 
seven federal launch sites, and seven spaceports, and an additional 
eight spaceports have been proposed (see fig. 9). We will be issuing a 
report later this year on FAA's oversight of commercial space launches. 

Figure 9: Existing and Proposed Federal and Nonfederal Spaceports in 
the United States, April 2006: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FAA; GAO. 

[End of Figure] 

FAA Needs to Retain Its Leadership Role in International Safety 
Standard Setting: 

Maintaining U.S. position as a global leader in aviation safety calls 
for robust participation in the setting of international safety 
standards. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a 
United Nations organization, develops standards and recommended 
practices for aviation safety and security for 188 member 
states.[Footnote 37] In 2002, the Commission on the Future of the 
United States Aerospace Industry[Footnote 38] reported that the United 
States had not devoted enough resources to ICAO and was, therefore, 
losing its position as the de facto standard setter. Furthermore, the 
position of U.S. ambassador to ICAO, which was filled earlier this 
year, had been vacant for more than a year, which may have affected the 
U.S. impact on international aviation issues. To ensure that qualified 
U.S. applicants apply for U.S. positions at ICAO, FAA has supported a 
number of activities, including outreach efforts, incentive pay 
programs, and a fellowship program that sends FAA employees to work at 
ICAO for up to 12 months. However, as of December 2005, FAA had filled 
only 13 of the 31 positions allocated to the United States at ICAO. FAA 
faces difficulty in filling the allocated positions for reasons beyond 
its control. For example, while FAA can recruit applicants, it does not 
make the final hiring decisions. With unfilled positions at ICAO, it 
will remain important for FAA to continue these efforts to enhance the 
presence of the United States in the international aviation community. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information on this testimony, please contact Dr. Gerald L. 
Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov. Individuals making 
key contributions to this testimony include Teresa Spisak, Jessica 
Evans, Colin Fallon, David Hooper, and Rosa Leung. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Extent to Which FAA Follows Effective Management Practices 
for Inspector Training: 

Figure 10: Extent That FAA Follows Effective Management Practices in 
Planning Technical Training: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of Figure] 

Figure 11: Extent That FAA Follows Effective Management Practices in 
Developing Technical Training: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

[A] This management practice is not specifically identified in our 
assessment guide. However, a management approach that assesses training 
needs holistically rather than on a course-by-course basis can provide 
for a more systematic assessment of whether and how training will help 
meet organizational needs. 

[End of Figure] 

Figure 12: Extent That FAA Follows Effective Management Practices in 
Delivering Technical Training: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of Figure] 

Figure 13: Extent That FAA Followed Effective Management Practices in 
Evaluating Its Training Program: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of Figure] 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Deployment of Surface Detection Equipment at Airports: 

Figure 14: Airports with Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS): 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FAA. 

[End of Figure] 

Figure 15: Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model X (ASDE-X) 
Deployment Sites: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FAA. 

[End of Figure] 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

Aviation Safety: FAA's Safety Oversight System Is Effective but Could 
Benefit from Better Evaluation of Its Programs' Performance. GAO-06- 
266T. Washington, D.C.: November 17, 2005. 

Aviation Safety: System Safety Approach Needs Further Integration into 
FAA's Oversight of Airlines. GAO-05-726. Washington, D.C.: September 
28, 2005. 

Aviation Safety: FAA Management Practices for Technical Training Mostly 
Effective; Further Actions Could Enhance Results. GAO-05-728. 
Washington, D.C.: September 7, 2005. 

Aviation Safety: Oversight of Foreign Code-Share Safety Program Should 
Be Strengthened. GAO-05-930. Washington, D.C.: August 5, 2005. 

Aviation Safety: FAA Needs to Strengthen the Management of Its Designee 
Programs. GAO-05-40. Washington, D.C.: October 8, 2004. 

Aviation Safety: Better Management Controls Are Needed to Improve FAA's 
Safety Enforcement and Compliance Efforts. GAO-04-646. Washington, 
D.C.: July 6, 2004. 

Aviation Safety: Information on FAA's Data on Operational Errors at Air 
Traffic Control Towers. GAO-03-1175R. Washington, D.C.: September 23, 
2003. 

Aviation Safety: FAA Needs to Update the Curriculum and Certification 
Requirements for Aviation Mechanics. GAO-03-317. Washington, D.C.: 
March 6, 2003. 

Aviation Safety: FAA and DOD Response to Similar Safety Concerns. GAO- 
02-77. Washington. D.C.: January 22, 2002. 

Aviation Safety: Safer Skies Initiative Has Taken Initial Steps to 
Reduce Accident Rates by 2007. GAO/RCED-00-111. Washington, D.C.: June 
30, 2000. 

(540136): 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Other industry partnership programs include the Aviation Safety 
Action Program, which allows for the self-reporting of safety incidents 
by employees of air carriers and repair stations; the Aviation Safety 
Reporting Program, which allows any participant in the national 
airspace system, such as air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight 
attendants, to self-report safety incidents; and the Flight Operation 
Quality Assurance Program, whose participant airlines equip their 
aircraft to record flight data, which the airlines analyze for safety 
trends that are provided to FAA. 

[2] The remaining approximately 1,500 inspectors oversee general 
aviation. 

[3] As of June 2006. This number includes about 2,380 traffic 
management coordinators and operations supervisors. 

[4] A runway incursion is any occurrence at an airport involving an 
aircraft, vehicle, person or object on the ground that creates a 
collision hazard or results in a loss of separation with an aircraft 
taking off, intending to take off, landing, or intending to land. 

[5] In December 2005, a Southwest Airlines airplane slid off a runway 
at Chicago's Midway Airport, went through a barrier fence and onto a 
roadway, killing a passenger in a passing automobile. Also in December 
2005, a Chalk's Ocean Airways aircraft experienced an in-flight breakup 
shortly after takeoff in Miami, resulting in 20 fatalities. On January 
16, 2006, a Continental Airlines ground worker was fatally injured in 
El Paso, Texas. In August 2006, a Comair flight crashed while 
attempting take-off from the Lexington, Kentucky, airport, resulting in 
49 fatalities. 

[6] FAA's performance target for fiscal year 2006 is 0.018 fatal 
accidents per 100,000 departures over the last 3 years. 

[7] According to FAA, accidents impacting a single person, although 
they may be serious, are isolated to ground workers or a single 
passenger who may walk into a propeller or who may fall while boarding 
or deplaning. Removing these isolated risk accidents from the data 
helps achieve a more informative comparison of accident data, according 
to the agency. 

[8] Comprehensive activity data regarding emergency medical services 
operations (for example, exposure rates and missions flown) are limited 
because the sources for these data are generally poor. Therefore, 
accident rates cannot be calculated. 

[9] An operational error is a violation of FAA separation standards 
that define minimum safe distances between aircraft, between aircraft 
and other physical structures, and between aircraft and otherwise 
restricted airspace. 

[10] GAO, Aviation Safety: System Safety Approach Needs Further 
Integration into FAA's Oversight of Airlines, GAO-05-726 (Washington, 
D.C.: Sept. 28, 2005). 

[11] The airlines are Champion, American Eagle, ExpressJet, and 
SkyWest. 

[12] For example, we found that when Champion Airlines became part of 
ATOS in January 2005, FAA has, in this one case, revised its procedures 
to allow the Northwest Airlines inspection team to share its data 
analyst and manager with the Champion inspection team. 

[13] GAO, Aviation Safety: FAA Needs to Strengthen the Management of 
Its Designee Programs, GAO-05-40 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 8, 2004). 

[14] Examples of companies that are organizational designees include 
Boeing, Gulfstream, United Airlines, and Continental Airlines, as well 
as smaller companies. 

[15] DOT Inspector General, Air Carriers' Use of Aircraft Repair 
Stations (Washington, D.C; July 8, 2003). 

[16] GAO, Aviation Safety: Better Management Controls Are Needed to 
Improve FAA's Safety Enforcement and Compliance Efforts, GAO-04-646 
(Washington, D.C.: July 6, 2004). 

[17] These databases are the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem, 
National Vital Information Subsystem, Designee Information Network, and 
Airmen Medical Certification Information Subsystem. 

[18] We define technical training as training in aviation technologies. 
FAA includes in its definition of technical training topics such as 
system safety and risk analysis, inspector job skills, data analysis, 
and training in software packages. 

[19] GAO, Aviation Safety: FAA Management Practices for Technical 
Training Mostly Effective; Further Actions Could Enhance Results, GAO-
05-728 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 7, 2005). We compared FAA's management 
of its inspector technical training efforts with effective management 
practices in GAO, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing Strategic 
Training and Development Efforts in the Federal Government, GAO-04-546G 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 1, 2004). 

[20] GAO, Aviation Safety: FAA Needs to Update the Curriculum and 
Certification Requirements for Aviation Mechanics, GAO-03-317 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 6, 2003). 

[21] After a fourth fatal accident occurred in August 2006, FAA 
estimated that 0.023 fatal accidents per 100,000 departures had 
occurred over the last 3 years. Since the fatal accident rate is small 
and could significantly fluctuate from year to year due to a single 
accident, FAA's performance measure is a 3-year average, which helps to 
smooth the fluctuation that may occur in any given year. 

[22] The risk factors that may affect the safety record of cargo 
carriers include operating a large number of flights at night and the 
age of cargo aircraft. FAA estimates the median age of in-service 
passenger jets was 6.25 years, compared with the median age of cargo 
jets of over 25 years. 

[23] We have ongoing work for this subcommittee that is examining in 
detail FAA's oversight of air ambulances. 

[24] The high percentage of retirements is attributable to the 1981 
controller strike, when President Ronald Reagan fired over 10,000 air 
traffic controllers, and the consequent need to quickly rebuild the 
controller workforce. From 1982 through 1991, FAA hired an average of 
2,655 controllers per year. These controllers will become eligible for 
retirement during the next decade. 

[25] FAA, A Plan for the Future, 2006-2015 (Washington, D.C.: June 
2006). 

[26] Enroute air traffic controllers issue clearances and instructions 
for airborne aircraft. 

[27] To bypass initial Academy training, individuals must have 
successfully completed an aviation-related program of study from a 
school under FAA's collegiate training initiative program. FAA has 
agreements with 13 schools for this program. 

[28] AMASS processes data from Airport Surface Detection Equipment 
Model 3 (ASDE-3) systems and uses visual and sound signals to warn 
controllers of potential conflicts between arriving aircraft, and 
aircraft and vehicles on the ground. ASDE-X is the upgraded digitally 
based technology that enables air traffic controllers to detect 
potential runway conflicts by providing detailed coverage of movement 
on runways and taxiways. Both systems warn the controllers of potential 
incursions. Among the systems, only ASDE-X works in poor weather 
conditions. 

[29] By December 2003, FAA had installed AMASS at the 34 airports. 

[30] Ten airports that were scheduled to receive ASDE-X already had 
AMASS. 

[31] GAO, National Airspace System: FAA Has Made Progress but Continues 
to Face Challenges in Acquiring Major Air Traffic Control Systems, GAO-
05-331 (Washington, D.C.: June 10, 2005). 

[32] GAO-05-331. 

[33] Very light jets are jet aircraft weighing 10,000 pounds or less 
maximum certificated take-off weight and certificated for single pilot 
operations. Aircraft possess at least some of the following features: 
(1) advanced cockpit automation, such as moving map GPS and 
multifunction displays; (2) automated engine and systems management; 
and (3) integrated auto-flight, autopilot and flight-guidance systems. 

[34] Unmanned aerial vehicles do not carry a human operator; they are 
either programmed for autonomous flight (called a "drone") or are flown 
remotely by a ground operator. 

[35] A certificate of authorization allows an operator to use defined 
airspace for a specified time (up to one year, in some cases) and 
includes special provisions unique to each operation. For instance, a 
certificate may include a requirement to operate only under visual 
flight rules. 

[36] The X Prize Foundation was established in 1995 to award $10 
million to the first team to launch a suborbital reusable launch 
vehicle capable of carrying three people to an altitude of 70 miles, 
return safely to Earth, and repeat the exercise within 2 weeks using 
the same vehicle. Twenty-seven teams from seven countries competed. 

[37] ICAO also addresses issues such as air navigation, airspace 
capacity, and environmental concerns such as engine noise and 
emissions. 

[38] Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States 
Aerospace Industry (Arlington, Va; November 2002). 

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