Aircraft Maintenance:

Additional FAA Oversight Needed of Aging Aircraft Repairs (Vol. I)

RCED-91-91A: Published: May 24, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 21, 1991.

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Kenneth M. Mead
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) increases in demand for heavy airframe maintenance; (2) air carriers' efforts to comply with new federal requirements for repairing aging aircraft; and (3) the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of air carriers' compliance with the new rules.

GAO found that: (1) the demand for airframe repair and maintenance during the 1990 through 1994 compliance period will be much greater than FAA initially believed when it gave carriers 4 years to comply with airworthiness directives; (2) unverifiable data, extensive and unforeseen repairs, and additional maintenance work loads contributed to FAA underestimating the amount of repair work needed; (3) carriers noted that about 2,600 aircraft would be affected by structural or corrosion airworthiness directives by 1995, about twice the number affected by the structural airworthiness directives alone; (4) although carriers could begin repairing their oldest aircraft immediately, limited replacement parts, hangar space, and airframe mechanics delayed such work; (5) although 13 of 17 air carriers had written plans for complying with FAA rules, the lack of action by 9 carriers shows that they may not comply by the deadline; and (6) FAA did effectively oversee aging aircraft repairs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA is collecting on a one-time basis information from domestic carriers on their compliance with aging aircraft airworthiness directives. However, FAA has no plans to engage in periodic data collection as recommended. FAA believes that it has other methods to ensure compliance.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA oversight of aging aircraft airworthiness directive compliance, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require domestic Part 121 air carriers to submit periodic reports on their implementation of new FAA rules for aging aircraft. Each report should include: (1) descriptions of critical compliance obstacles; (2) an implementation schedule for each aging aircraft, including evidence of obtaining sufficient hangar space for the work; (3) evidence that replacement parts have been ordered, plans for obtaining remaining parts, and facts relating to compliance being impaired by parts unavailability; and (4) a status report on aircraft that have been brought into compliance, disposed of before doing the airworthiness directive work, newly acquired and will require the work, and kept in operation and will still need the work.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA issued a summary report in October 1992. GAO recently reported that the report is severely limited because it does not describe compliance by individual airlines or aircraft. A recommendation to do so was provided in GAO/RCED-93-91, February 26, 1993.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should submit to the chairmen of the aviation authorization subcommittees in the House and Senate a semiannual report on the industry's progress in implementing FAA aging aircraft mandates. The report should discuss significant advances as well as shortfalls in the industry's progress and actions FAA is taking to mitigate any shortfalls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has directed its inspectors to encourage and carriers to plan early for making aging aircraft modifications. Where carriers have plans, FAA is monitoring progress against the plans so that alternatives to compliance can be developed by the airlines and evaluated by FAA.

    Recommendation: To improve FAA ability to respond in the event of widespread noncompliance with deadlines for completing structural airworthiness directive work, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to explore options for extending compliance deadlines on a case-by-case basis or granting alternative means of compliance. Alternatives should be considered only when warranted by resource shortages and when the airworthiness of each aircraft granted such waiver can be ensured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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