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Highlights

One key way that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) makes air travel safer is to inspect the manufacture, operation, and maintenance of aircraft that fly in the United States. To better direct its resources, FAA is shifting from an inspection process that relied on spot-checks of compliance with regulations to one that evaluates operating procedures and analyzes inspection data to identify areas that pose the most risk to safety (called system safety). While FAA believes the new approach requires some technical knowledge of aircraft, Congress and GAO have long-standing concerns over whether FAA inspectors have enough technical knowledge to effectively identify risks. GAO reviewed the extent that FAA follows effective management practices in ensuring that inspectors receive up-to-date technical training. In addition, GAO is reporting on technical training that the aviation industry provides to FAA.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. Regarding technical training, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator, to ensure that inspector technical training needs are identified and met in a timely manner, to systematically assess inspectors' technical training needs, increase inspector involvement in the decision-making process for assessing the need for courses, including the need for more training for maintenance and avionics inspectors to familiarize them with recent changes in aviation technology, and ensure the technical curriculum meets those needs. The Administrator should also take the actions needed, including developing guidelines for inspectors, supervisors, and training managers, to ensure that technical training is requested and delivered closer to the time it is needed to help inspectors perform their jobs.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2005 review of FAA Technical Training, we found FAA management practices for training were mostly effective. However, we recommended that the FAA take actions to ensure that technical training needs are identified and met in a timely manner. In response, FAA published charters for curriculum oversight teams to identify and assess new training needs, systematically assessed training needed by identifying the competencies that inspectors use to carry out their jobs, developed guidelines for handling unplanned training needs, and developed new web based courses to deliver training in a more timely manner.
Department of Transportation 2. Regarding technical training, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator, with a view toward maximizing the contributions of training to furthering FAA's safety mission, to determine the feasibility of developing measures of the impact of inspector training, including technical training, on achieving organizational goals.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2005 review of FAA Technical Training, we found FAA management practices for training to be mostly effective but recommended that FAA determine the feasibility of developing measures of the impact of inspector training in response, FAA conducted an analysis that explored different methods to measure training's impact on achieving organizational goals and documented its efforts by sending the analysis called "Feasibility Study: Measuring the Impact of Training on Organizational Goals, May 28, 2007".
Department of Transportation 3. To gain better acceptance from the inspector workforce for changes being made and planned for the inspector training curriculum, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to increase the focus of its training efforts on how system safety/risk management will improve inspections and aviation safety.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2005 review of FAA technical training, we found FAA management practices for training were mostly effective. However, we recommended that the FAA, to gain better acceptance by FAA inspectors of changes being made and planned to the training curriculum, focus on how systems safety/risk management (called Air Transportation Oversight System -ATOS) will improve inspections and aviation safety. In response, FAA produced 2 DVD videos on the FAA ATOS risk management/system safety program and used these videos to familiarize inspectors and supervisors with its risk management approach. FAA has also formed a System Approach for Safety Oversight (SASO) Program Office to provide change management support during the transition to ATOS 1.2, when FAA will extend the use of ATOS risk-based certification and surveillance to all Part 121 air carriers. As part of its goal of building stakeholder support for ATOS, SASO conducted focus groups where field staff could voice concerns and provide the field office's perspective on what a successful implementation of ATOS 1.2 would look like. The FAA will use the insight gained in the key field site focus groups to surface problems early on and fine tune the process prior to full implementation of ATOS 1.2. In addition, FAA is continuing to conduct 13 courses on ATOS between October 12, 2006 and July 18, 2007. This course's focus is on ATOS and its safety benefits.
Department of Transportation 4. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to ensure that all existing and future memoranda of understanding pertaining to training received in exchange for in-kind services contain language stating that the agreement does not preclude FAA from fulfilling its oversight and enforcement role.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2005, we reported that FAA management practices for technical training were mostly effective. However, we recommended that FAA ensure that all existing and future memorandum of understanding (MOU) pertaining to training received in exchange for in-kind services contain language stating that the agreement does not preclude FAA employees from fulfilling their oversight and enforcement role. In 2008, FAA revised the guidance on MOUs pertaining to training contained in FAA Order 8900.10. Specifically, FAA added language stating that FAA employees will maintain their normal violation and enforcement functions when observing noncompliance. In addition, the revised order now contains enhanced oversight including a requirement for periodic program assessments for accordance with FAA policies and review of MOUs to ensure they conform strictly to the guidance in FAA Order 8900.10. By taking these actions, FAA is helping to ensure that employee acceptance of training from aviation industry providers does not limit FAA's enforcement authority.
Department of Transportation 5. To preclude situations where the provision of free training by the aviation industry may create a conflict of interest or result in the appearance of such a conflict, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to review its policies on the acceptance of free training accepted from the aviation industry to ensure they are understood by inspectors, supervisors, managers, and regional counsel; implement a process for monitoring field office compliance with these policies; and follow up on any noncompliance.
Closed - Implemented
In 2005 GAO found that FAA's management practices for training to be mostly effective. GAO also found that FAA has recognized that the manufacturers and operators of aircraft and aircraft systems can be the best source of much of the technical training for its inspectors. While FAA pays for most of the training its inspectors receive from aviation sources, some of the training is provided at no cost or in exchange for in-kind services. GAO concluded that FAA had not communicated its policy on the acceptance of training without charge; and as a result some FAA regions have accepted training that has not been approved and could pose conflict-of-interest issues - or the appearance of such a conflict - for the agency. To preclude situations where the provision of free training by the aviation industry may create a conflict of interest or result in the appearance of such a conflict, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA Administrator to review its policies on the acceptance of free training from the aviation industry to ensue that they are understood by inspectors, supervisors, managers, and regional counsel; implement a process for monitoring field office compliance and follow up on any noncompliance. In 2011 FAA informed GAO that the agency revised its guidance on memorandums of understanding(MOUs)pertaining to training received from operators of aircraft contained in FAA Order 8900.1 to address GAO's recommendation. Specifically, FAA added language stating that FAA employees will maintain their normal violation and enforcement functions when observing noncompliance. In addition, the revised order now contains enhanced oversight including a requirement for periodic program assessments to determine whether FAA staff has followed the guidance provided in the order. The order also requires that the headquarters Air Transportation Division track MOUs submitted by all regions to identify and correct at an early stage any inconsistencies, omissions or misunderstandings. The order also states that in order to avoid the appearance of abuse, any proposed MOU that does not confirm strictly to the guidance in the order will be approved and signed by the Air Transportation Division, as well as the local FAA officials responsible for the oversight of the operator. By taking these actions FAA is helping to ensure that it avoids conflict of interest issues, or the appearance of such issues in its oversight of the aviation industry.

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