Aviation Safety:

Federal Regulation of Public Aircraft

RCED-87-19BR: Published: Dec 8, 1986. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 1986.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information concerning the use, maintenance, and safety of public aircraft in Alaska, and the extent to which Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations apply to these aircraft. Public aircraft are those that federal, state, or local governments use exclusively.

GAO found that: (1) public aircraft throughout the United States are subject to substantially fewer FAA safety regulations than civil aircraft; (2) during fiscal year (FY) 1985, the federal government operated 99 of the 140 government-owned aircraft in Alaska, the state operated 46, and local governments operated 9; (3) more than one-half of the governmental units hired aircraft in FY 1985; and (4) public aircraft functions include transportation of personnel and cargo, search and rescue, fire fighting, and wildlife surveys. GAO noted that: (1) federal law does not require an independent party to report or investigate public aircraft accidents; (2) FAA has no responsibility for inspecting or otherwise overseeing public aircraft maintenance or operation; and (3) there was no historical database from which to make an informed assessment of public aircraft safety. GAO also found that: (1) all government units owning aircraft and nearly all hired-aircraft operators said that since they voluntarily met or exceeded FAA aircraft maintenance and crew regulations, required compliance would cause no adverse effects; and (2) in 1985, there were five accidents involving government-owned aircraft and four involving government-hired aircraft.