Aviation Safety: Oversight of Foreign Code-Share Safety Program Should Be Strengthened

GAO-05-930 Published: Aug 05, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 09, 2005.
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U.S. airlines are increasingly relying on code-share partnerships with foreign carriers to provide additional sources of revenue. Code-sharing is a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline and sells and issues tickets for that flight. To determine whether the foreign code-share partners of U.S. airlines meet an acceptable level of safety, in 2000, the Department of Transportation (DOT) established the Code-Share Safety Program, which requires U.S. airlines to conduct safety audits of their foreign code-share partners as a condition of code-share authorization. GAO's objective was to assess the federal government's efforts to provide reasonable assurance of safety and security on foreign code-share flights. GAO reviewed (1) the extent to which DOT's code-share authorization process is designed to consider safety and security, (2) the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) management of the Code-Share Safety Program, and (3) the implementation of the program by airlines and the results.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to revise the Code-Share Safety Program guidelines to improve the effectiveness of the program and the clarity of the procedures that the airlines should follow in documenting and closing out safety audit findings. Because the audit guidelines indicate that the airlines should not submit compliance statements until all corrective actions have been completed, but FAA is allowing the airlines to resolve "nonsafety-critical" findings later, FAA should consider either following that guideline or defining "safety-critical" audit findings, so that the airlines and FAA reviewers know which types of findings must be corrected before submitting the compliance statements.
Closed – Implemented
In December 2006, DOT issued revised Code-Share Safety Program Guidelines that clarify the procedures that U.S. airlines should follow in documenting the closure of safety audit findings regarding their foreign code-share partners.
Department of Transportation To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop mechanisms to enhance FAA's management controls over its reviews of the safety audit reports. In developing the mechanisms, FAA should consider standardizing the qualifications and training needed for agency staff to review the airlines' safety audit reports; identifying ways to document its reviews of the airlines' safety audit reports; increasing the scrutiny of audit reports that have an unusually high or low number of findings, periodically selecting a sample of safety audits to conduct a comprehensive review of the underlying documentation collected; and collecting and analyzing information on the audit findings for the foreign code-share partners of U.S. airlines so that the data can be more easily quantified and analyzed to spot possible trends and anomalies, should FAA decide such analyses are needed.
Closed – Implemented
FAA revised its Code-Share Safety Program policy to require that the Code-Share Program Manager be an Aviation Safety Inspector who has successfully completed industry code-share auditing training prior to conducting any code-share audits. In addition, FAA revised its code-share job aid to document its reviews of airlines' safety audit reports, including documenting whether all findings were closed.
Department of Transportation To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to explore with DOD potential opportunities to reduce duplication of efforts in reviewing the same safety audit reports.
Closed – Implemented
In October 2005 and July 2006, FAA and DOD officials met to explore whether redundancies exist in the two programs that might be eliminated.
Transportation Security Administration Because security is an important component of assessing airline safety, to improve DOD's oversight of foreign carriers that transport DOD personnel, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for TSA to develop a process of routinely coordinating with DOD regarding information on the security of foreign airports for DOD to consider in reviewing the safety of foreign airlines. Such a process could be documented in a memorandum of understanding or other written procedures to ensure such coordination.
Closed – Not Implemented
In a May 8, 2007, letter to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, DHS indicated that an information sharing process regarding TSA's foreign airport security assessments has been established with DOD that allows the review of assessment reports and other information as needed. DHS also indicated that TSA has had internal discussions regarding the development and implementation of a memorandum of understanding with DOD. On August 3, 2007, DHS informed us that although TSA has regular contact with the Air Force, it could not provide any documentation supporting the information sharing process and that TSA has no formal agreement or MOU with DOD on this matter.

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