Aviation Safety:

Air Taxis--The Most Accident-Prone Airlines--Need Better Oversight

RCED-92-60: Published: Jan 21, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed oversight of the air taxi industry, focusing on: (1) the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) level of inspection effort for air taxis; and (2) the Office of the Secretary of Transportation's (OST) economic fitness standards as applied to air taxis.

GAO found that: (1) despite air taxi services' high accident rate, FAA information indicated that 27 percent of air taxis did not receive required inspections in fiscal year 1990; (2) FAA routine inspections generally did not detect violations that led to emergency orders revoking air taxis' operating certificates; (3) FAA special inspections are more comprehensive than routine inspections and have been more effective in identifying air taxis' safety violations; (4) FAA has not performed all required annual routine inspections or an industry-wide special inspection since 1985 because it considers air carriers, commuters, and other aviation-related activities to have higher inspection priority; (5) air taxi operators' financial distress and poor compliance attitude contributed to safety violations; and (6) air taxi operators do not have to meet OST economic fitness standards, and OST officials stated that requiring air taxis to do so would place an undue burden on the industry.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not indicated whether it will require DOT to undertake the recommended study.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider whether air taxis' exemption from OST certification and economic fitness review remains appropriate in light of air taxis' poorer safety record. Furthermore, if the Secretary does not perform the recommended study, Congress may wish to mandate that it be done.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Annually, FAA sets minimum air taxi inspection requirements that must be performed. Inspection results are recorded in the Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS) database. However, FAA does not plan to conduct periodic industry-wide inspections.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight of the air taxi industry, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to perform: (1) a minimum level of required inspections; and (2) periodic, industry-wide special inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 16, 1992, FAA issued Joint Handbook bulletins for Airworthiness (92-19) and Air Transportation (92-15) that provide guidance on surveillance of financially distressed airlines.

    Recommendation: FAA should revise its inspector handbook to provide guidance and procedures that would allow for special surveillance of any airline in financial distress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT does not believe the study is feasible because: (1) burdensome financial reporting would have to be imposed on air taxis to determine the relationship of financial distress to safety violations and (2) air taxi operators with poor compliance attitudes may be out-of-business and not available for review.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should study the extent to which air taxi operators' financial distress and poor compliance attitude contribute to safety violations and report the result to the Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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