Feds say FAA needs to change airline overviews

/ Source: The Associated Press

The FAA must make changes to ensure that airlines correct safety violations like those that occurred at Southwest Airlines, according to a new government report.

The report says more inspectors should review safety cases before they are closed, and that inspectors should be barred from immediately going to work for airlines that they monitor.

The Federal Aviation Administration agrees with several of the suggestions but rejected an idea to rotate inspectors so they don't become too close to particular airlines.

And the FAA only partly accepted another recommendation designed to protect whistle-blowers like those who publicized problems at Southwest.

The suggestions were contained in a report this week from the Transportation Department's inspector general.

House Transportation committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., requested the report after disclosures that Southwest Airlines Co. operated dozens of flights with planes that hadn't been inspected for cracks in their metal frames.

In the report, described as interim and to be followed with a final version later this year, the inspector general made eight recommendations for improving the FAA's record in making sure that airlines obeyed safety orders.

The FAA said it has already begun acting on six of the suggestions, including more review of cases so that a single inspector can't decide to close a case.

But the FAA rejected a proposal that it rotate supervisory inspectors every three years to prevent them from growing too cozy with particular airlines. The agency said it would be too costly to keep moving employees.

The agency only partially accepted a proposal to create an independent organization to investigate inspectors' safety concerns. Inspectors who raised safety concerns about Southwest say their objections were ignored by their bosses who were too close to the airline.

The FAA said it was setting up a new process under which inspectors could send safety concerns directly to the agency's associate administrator for safety, and had already received 11 reports of potential safety issues.

But the inspector general countered that the new process only added another layer to an existing system that is "ineffective and possibly even biased against resolving root causes of serious safety lapses."

In April, the FAA proposed a $10.2 million penalty against Dallas-based Southwest this year. Airline officials are in informal talks with the agency, hoping to reduce the sum.