Aviation Safety:

Increased Oversight of Foreign Carriers Needed

RCED-93-42: Published: Nov 20, 1992. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 1992.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Transportation's (DOT) licensing and the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) implementation of a program which examines foreign civil aviation authorities' compliance with international safety standards, focusing on FAA: (1) assessments of foreign countries' compliance with international standards; (2) oversight of foreign carriers that fail to meet international standards; and (3) actions taken in response to safety concerns with foreign carriers.

GAO found that: (1) FAA assessed foreign carrier compliance with international safety standards when new carriers applied for U.S. operator's licenses; (2) 6 of the 15 countries FAA visited met or exceeded international safety standards; (3) countries failing to meet international safety standards lacked operations or airworthiness inspectors, technical expertise, proficiency checks for pilots and crew, inspector training, and aviation regulations, handbooks or guidance; (4) although DOT did not allow new foreign carrier applicants that failed the FAA safety assessment, FAA permitted already licensed carriers to operate in the United States because they had established safety records; (5) FAA officials planned to increase inspection coverage, but FAA has not stated the nature of inspections to be performed, frequency of inspections, or when they should occur; (6) FAA inspections primarily consisted of examining aircraft markings, pilot licenses, and airworthiness certificates; (7) FAA guidance permitted closer inspection of foreign carriers when serious safety concerns existed; and (8) FAA did not act promptly when Canada notified it that specific aircraft did not meet international standards.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA addressed this recommendation with the implementation of a quarterly special-emphasis list that identifies foreign air carriers for an increased number of inspections. Each foreign carrier with scheduled flights to the United States is to receive one ramp inspection per year. However, if a foreign carrier appears on the quarterly special-emphasis list, FAA recommends that inspectors conduct an additional ramp inspection monthly. Beginning in fiscal year 1997, FAA plans to further increase surveillance by requiring two ramp inspections on each foreign carrier. FAA has also expanded the comprehensiveness of its inspections of foreign carriers.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require its field offices to perform comprehensive inspections of foreign air carriers that fly into the United States when FAA: (1) finds that their home governments do not comply with international standards; and/or (2) becomes aware that the carrier has serious safety problems. These inspections should continue until FAA determines that the home government meets international standards and that the carrier is operating safely. FAA should also specify the nature, frequency, and timing of these inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA stated that it will continue to schedule assessments based on FAA's knowledge of the efficiency of other civil aviation agencies' safety oversight systems. Accordingly, FAA believes its actions fulfill the intent of the recommendation and it will continue to manage its program in this manner. However, FAA continues to base its country assessments on new applicants while GAO believes the results of inspections should also form the basis for determining country assessments. It is unclear from FAA's action that inspection data will be used for rearranging priorities for country assessments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to give priority to assessing the oversight capabilities of those countries that FAA determines have one or more carriers with serious safety problems and work with the countries to ensure that their oversight capabilities are sound.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA developed and is using its quarterly special-emphasis list to notify inspectors and field offices when increased emphasis on certain foreign carriers is warranted. FAA is also electronically notifying its inspectors and field offices of serious safety problems with foreign carriers in between the issuance of the quarterly listings.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to promptly notify all relevant field offices of serious safety concerns about foreign carriers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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