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Highlights

GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) management efforts to identify, set priorities for, and develop timely solutions to safety hazards. Safety hazards include problem areas such as midair collisions, cabin fires, and seat dislocations during crash impacts. GAO did not assess the technical sufficiency or reasonableness of the FAA approach or its solutions. FAA can enhance aviation safety by further improving its performance. It has not always been effective or timely in dealing with safety hazards, and its actions are often perceived to be reactive instead of anticipatory. There must be a system for identifying safety hazards. A comprehensive planning process must then be developed to address the safety issues. Individual safety programs should be planned and approved. Controls must be systematically established to ensure that programs are successfully implemented and, once in place, are sufficiently evaluated as to their effectiveness. FAA has not recognized the importance of hazard identification systems, emphasized information gathering and analysis, or undertaken long-term planning for comprehensive indentification systems. Organizational problems have hampered FAA effectiveness. It does not pay sufficient attention to human factors research. Important information about its safety projects has not been adequately or consistently documented. Without sufficient monitoring, management lacks the knowledge on which to evaluate project performance. An effective system for objectively evaluating the effects of its programs would be especially valuable for FAA; however, evaluation has received little priority and has diminished in use by the agency. One recommendation, among many, made by GAO to the Secretary of Transportation called on the FAA to establish a top management group, which might be called the administrator's safety advisory group, to identify overall safety priorities and to review and approve specific and detailed safety project plans.

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