A government watchdog told a Senate panel Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has missed safety inspections at major airlines.
The Transportation Department's inspector general, Calvin Scovel, said that the cozy relationship between FAA inspectors and Southwest Airlines that he warned Congress about last year extends to more offices within the agency and more airlines.
FAA's Air Transportation Oversight Systems has missed inspections at seven other major airlines, Scovel told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's aviation subcommittee. Some of those inspections were nearly two years overdue, he said.
"We have found that these missed inspections were in critical maintenance areas," Scovel said.
FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the agency is conducting its inspections based on risk analyses.
"It is our position that the critical safety issues have been dealt with and are always dealt with first," Spitaliere said. "Some of the less critical ones may not have been accomplished, but we're currently working to accomplish them."
Scovel said FAA has recently extended the oversight systems office's purview to regional air carriers as well as major airlines. He recommended Congress keep a closer watch on the agency.
The focus of the hearing is on safety at regional air carriers in the wake of the crash of Continental Express Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 12. The flight was operated for Continental by Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va.
Mark Rosenker, the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that FAA has failed to implement several recommendations made by the board that go to the heart of some of the safety concerns that have arisen about the Buffalo crash.