Aviation Safety:

Unresolved Issues Involving U.S.-Registered Aircraft

RCED-93-135: Published: Jun 18, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 1993.

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Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) monitoring of U.S.-registered aircraft, focusing on whether: (1) FAA inspects U.S.-registered aircraft operated overseas by foreign air carriers, as an international agreement requires; (2) there is a FAA system to verify that 60 percent of the U.S.-registered aircraft's flight hours are conducted in the United States, as required; and (3) FAA has adjusted registration fees for all U.S.-registered aircraft in response to legislative requirements.

GAO found that: (1) FAA has not inspected 32 percent of the 517 U.S.-registered aircraft operated outside of the United States; (2) FAA does not have the staff to inspect foreign-operated, U.S.-registered aircraft outside of the United States, but it plans to increase its overseas safety staff; (3) leasing arrangements have complicated FAA inspections, since FAA does not track foreign carriers' overseas operations or require a maintenance check when U.S.-registered aircraft transfer from foreign to U.S. operation; (4) FAA does not keep historical records on whether foreign carriers have FAA-approved maintenance programs; (5) FAA does not verify whether U.S.-based foreign corporations comply with the 60-percent in-country flight requirement, and does not have a basis to suspend or revoke an aircraft's registration or withdraw the carrier's authority to operate in the United States if it fails to comply; (6) FAA is attempting to recover registration processing costs by applying user fees; (7) FAA has not raised its registration fee since 1964 and does not require annual registration renewal; (8) FAA has the authority to raise its registration fee, but it cannot raise fees until it has issued regulations implementing the FAA Drug Enforcement Assistance Act; and (9) debates between FAA and drug enforcement agencies on aircraft registration renewals have delayed regulation implementation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When U.S.-registered aircraft are leased to foreign organizations they are removed from the carriers' operations specifications. If the aircraft is transferred back to a U.S. leasee, the carrier must establish to FAA's satisfaction that the aircraft meets the requirements of the carrier's maintenance program and Federal Aviation Regulations before it can reestablish operational control of the aircraft. FAA's compliance activities are conducted with heightened intensity on aircraft that have been operated in a country that does not meet minimum international aviation safety standards. FAA believes these actions are pursuant to existing requirements and fulfill the intent of the recommendation. No further action is planned.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require owners of U.S.-registered aircraft to notify FAA when they change from a foreign to a U.S. lessee and identify the parties involved, and inspect these aircraft when they enter the United States, particularly if they are from countries that do not meet international safety standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective September 1994, cases where registered owners have not submitted required flight hour reports or have filed forms that show flight hour requirements were not met are referred to Legal, and Notices of Noncompliance or Notices of Apparent Ineffectiveness are issued. In September 1995, a letter will be issued to each region with a computer printout of FAR 47.9-registered aircraft. As new FAR 47.9 aircraft are registered, the information will be sent to the particular Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). In July 1995, the computer system was modified to flag records where a Notice of Apparent Ineffectiveness was issued. Legal will advise Flight Standards (Oklahoma City) of registered FAR 47.9 owners who have consistently shown noncompliance. When a new registration application is received from one of these owners, a letter will be issued requesting additional information; if a certificate is issued, the owner must meet requirements of FAR 47.9(b)(1) or (2).

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a system to ensure that foreign corporations' U.S.-registered aircraft accumulate at least 60 percent of flight hours in the United States, institute procedures to prevent foreign corporations from re-registering aircraft when they do not comply, and take such enforcement action as suspending or revoking the aircraft's registration or withdrawing the carrier's authority to operate in the United States for those that do not comply.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The provisions to increase the aircraft registration fee from the current $5 to $130 was never reauthorized by Congress.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to accelerate implementation of the proposed rules for increasing aircraft registration fees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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