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GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of commuter airlines. GAO noted that: (1) between 1990 and 1991, the number of commuter airlines accidents increased by almost 50 percent; (2) FAA has taken such positive steps to improve its inspection program as increasing its inspector work force, creating a program for in-depth inspections of selected airlines, and defining annual inspection requirements for each airline; (3) FAA lacks a system to target its limited inspection resources to airlines on the basis of safety performance and assigns its inspection resources on the basis of an airline's fleet size; (4) upon its recommendation, FAA is now giving priority to developing a performance-based risk-assessment system; (5) FAA has not been performing required surveillance inspections, and in fiscal year (FY) 1990, 17 percent of about 165 commuter airlines did not receive at least one of the required avionics, maintenance, or operations inspections; (6) some FAA routine inspections were not effective in discovering safety violations that led to emergency orders revoking commuters' operating certificates; (7) FAA became aware of safety violations as the result of tips or an investigation initiated following an accident, rather than by inspection; (8) heavy work-load demands affect some inspectors' ability to perform inspections; (9) some violations are difficult to detect; and (10) special inspections are more likely to identify and resolve long-standing problems sooner than routine inspections.

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