Aviation Safety:

FAA Oversight of Aviation Repair Stations

T-RCED-98-188: Published: May 7, 1998. Publicly Released: May 7, 1998.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of repair stations that maintain and repair aircraft and aircraft components, focusing on: (1) the practice of using individual inspectors in repair station inspections; (2) the condition of inspection documentation; and (3) current FAA actions to improve the inspection process.

GAO noted that: (1) FAA was meeting its goal of inspecting every repair station at least once a year and 84 percent of the inspectors believed that the overall compliance of repair stations was good or excellent; (2) more than half of the inspectors said that there were areas of compliance that repair stations could improve, such as ensuring that their personnel receive training from all airlines for which they perform work and have current maintenance manuals; (3) while FAA typically relies on individual inspectors, the use of teams of inspectors, particularly at large or complex repair stations, may be more effective at identifying problems and are more liable to uncover systemic and long-standing deficiencies; (4) because of insufficient documentation, GAO was unable to determine how well FAA followed up to ensure that the deficiencies found during the inspections were corrected; (5) GAO was not able to assess how completely or quickly repair stations were bringing themselves into compliance; (6) because FAA does not tell its inspectors what documentation to keep, the agency's ability to identify and react to trends is hampered; (7) FAA is spending more than $30 million to develop a reporting system that, among other things, is designed to enable the agency to apply its inspection resources to address those areas that pose the greatest risk to aviation safety; (8) as GAO has reported in the past, this goal will not be achieved without significant improvements in the completeness of inspection records; (9) since the May 1996 crash of a ValuJet DC-9 in the Florida Everglades, FAA has announced new initiatives to upgrade the oversight of repair stations; (10) these initiatives were directed at clarifying and augmenting air carriers' oversight of repair stations, not at ways in which FAA's own inspection resources could be better utilized; (11) FAA has several other efforts under way that would have a more direct bearing on its own inspection activities at repair stations; (12) one effort would revise the regulations governing operations at repair stations, and another would revise the regulations governing the qualifications of repair station personnel; (13) the revision of the regulations began in 1989 and has been repeatedly delayed; (14) the third effort is the addition of more FAA inspectors, which should mean that more resources can be devoted to inspecting repair stations; (15) FAA has recently announced a major overhaul of its entire inspection process; and (16) it is designed to systematize the process and ensure consistency in inspections and in reporting the results of these inspections so as to allow more efficient targeting of inspection resources.

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