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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), focusing on: (1) to what extent ATOS addresses past concerns about FAA's aviation safety inspections; (2) what factors, if any, surfaced during the implementation of ATOS that could impede its success; and (3) what FAA is doing to address any factors that could impede the success of ATOS.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a structured process and timeline for working with inspectors to revise the Air Transportation Oversight System's planning and inspection guidance. The process should involve the inspectors now using this guidance to: (1) identify problems with the clarity of the guidance; (2) revise the inspection guidance to include tasks related to all applicable Federal Aviation Regulations; and (3) define the tasks to be completed during inspections.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA revised its Air Transportation Oversight System policies and procedures on its inspection guidance in October 2001. This guidance defines and describes required tasks to comply with Federal Aviation Regulations.
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to revise the inspection guidance to: (1) include guidelines on the minimum number of times to perform various inspection tasks; and (2) distinguish between tasks based on regulatory requirements and those based on handbook or other guidance.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA revised its Air Transportation Oversight System guidance on the safety attribute inspection and element performance inspection data collection tools to identify questions required by Federal Aviation Regulations. These revisions clarify the guidance on the number of inspections required to achieve compliance and safety. The relevant FAA Order was completed in September 2001, and signed on October 19, 2001.
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a plan that involves both inspectors and experts in risk assessment and database development in revising and refining the analysis of the data needs of users of the new inspection program. The requirements analysis should describe in detail the questions that need to be asked to improve safety, determine precisely what data are needed to answer those questions, and plan the appropriate analyses to be conducted on those data to answer the questions.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA updated its guidance on data gathering and analysis to provide a more accurate and comprehensive evaluation of air carrier safety and compliance with the Federal Aviation Regulations to improve it decision-making process.
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to restructure the inspection database to: (1) require that essential data fields be completed before inspection reports can be closed out; and (2) clearly indicate the proportion of inspection observations in which an airline complies with regulations.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA concurred with this recommendation. Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) Data Quality Standardization Guidelines have been developed and provided to all ATOS-assigned inspectors. Automation controls have been developed to prevent inspectors from saving data without location and other mandatory fields. All essential fields have been identified, and required automation changes were completed in September 2000. As of February 9, 2001, automation links every regulatory-based job aid question to the applicable specific regulatory requirement to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Inspectors have the ability to query data repository by CFR to determine regulatory compliance status of the air carrier at the time inspections were completed. Reports can be constructed to highlight "no" responses to regulatory-based questions and the inspector action taken as a result. Existing actions meet the intent of the recommendation.
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to determine what revisions will be needed to the ATOS database and FAA's existing Safety Performance Analysis System database to maximize the potential of these two systems by coordinating their trend analyses to identify potential safety risks.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In January 2002, FAA integrated its ATOS database with SPAS, its computer analysis tool designed to aid inspectors in determining areas to inspect based on safety risk. The need to analyze inspection data to decide when and where to direct FAA's limited inspection resources has been a long-standing concern reported to FAA since 1987. FAA responded to this concern by developing SPAS.
Department of Transportation To strengthen the efforts to improve FAA's aviation safety inspections and the usefulness of the data that result from these inspections for analysis and for targeting the agency's resources to the greatest potential safety threats, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to test and validate the revised guidance and database for the new inspection program.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

FAA concurred with this recommendation. After the job aid revisions were completed in September 1999, a draft of each revised element performance inspection received a quality assurance review by an alpha test group, and was forwarded to field inspectors at each CMT for beta testing. The work group reviewed feedback from the alpha and beta tests and incorporated additional changes to the job aids, which were issued in January. Since that time, FAA has been using an electronic system to gather feedback on their use. A continuous improvement job aid work group meets quarterly to review the feedback and make additional revisions as necessary. Existing actions meet the intent of the recommendation.

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