For Immediate Release

April 2, 2008
Contact: Alison Duquette or Les Dorr
Phone: (202) 267-3883

Initial Airline Audit Validates Agency’s Overall Approach to Aviation Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Robert A. Sturgell today announced results to a safety audit that revealed 99% airline compliance with Airworthiness Directives (ADs). He also announced internal plans to (1) enable inspectors to raise their concerns quickly and at a higher level, (2) toughen ethical standards for inspectors to prevent conflicts of interest, (3) enhance airline safety by improving the clarity and coordination of directives issued by the FAA to air carriers, (4) require reporting of voluntary disclosures to be made by senior airline officials, and (5) speed up the expansion of our comprehensive aviation safety database.

“We are currently experiencing the safest period in aviation history,” Sturgell stated. “That’s not chance. It’s not a miracle. It’s the result of an entire industry making safety its driving focus. However, we have found ways to increase the accountability of all parties – the FAA included – and strengthen both the reporting role and the regulatory process.”

Each year the FAA issues about 250 Airworthiness Directives (ADs) on more than 83 different airplane and engine models requiring air carriers to correct potentially unsafe conditions. Compliance deadlines range from immediate action before further flight, to days, months, or years depending on the severity and complexity of the safety issue. Air carriers are required to fully comply with all of these legally enforceable directives.

The actions announced today include:

  • Development of the Safety Issues Reporting System (SIRS) to be implemented by April 30, 2008, which will provide employees an additional mechanism to raise safety concerns if they feel they are not receiving the necessary airing or response from supervisory and management personnel. This is in addition to existing channels, including the Administrator’s Hotline and the Safety Hotline;
  • By June 30, the FAA will initiate a rulemaking project to address ethics policies that enhance inspector post-employment restrictions, bringing them in line with or exceeding existing restrictions for other federal employees. Currently, FAA prohibits new inspectors who are hired from an airline from overseeing that airline for a period of two years;
  • The Aviation Safety Organization is working with the manufacturers and air carriers to develop a system to improve the clarity of ADs to ensure effective implementation by the industry;
  • Requiring that  reports detailing compliance deviations under the Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program are submitted by senior airline officials such as the Director of Safety, the Director of Operations or the Director of Maintenance, to ensure there is awareness and sensitivity at the highest level; and
  • Accelerating the expansion of the Aviation Safety and Analysis Sharing Program. With all 117 carriers participating in the Air Transportation and Oversight System (ATOS), the expansion will provide a new blend of data that will afford an additional look at nationwide trends.

Acting Administrator Sturgell also announced the results of a recent audit that found that U.S. air carriers are complying with 99 percent of nearly 2,400 audits of ADs sampled by safety inspectors. From March 13, 2008 to March 28, 2008, FAA aviation safety inspectors sampled compliance with 10 ADs for each fleet at each air carrier. Inspectors reviewed directives at all 117 air carriers which included 42 aircraft makes and models. The inspectors questioned compliance in 34 cases.

In seven cases, the carrier had not complied with the AD and appropriate action was taken before the aircraft operated. In 14 cases, airlines were able to present additional evidence to establish that they had completed the work required by the AD. In six cases, the aircraft were out of service and were not required to meet the AD. They will be brought into compliance before they can be operated. In five audits the air carrier performed work that was different from the AD, but the substitute work was approved as an alternate means of compliance.

Over the past two weeks, inspectors validated that air carrier work instructions correctly described the method of compliance contained in the AD and reviewed the complete work package on at least one aircraft. During the audit’s second phase, inspectors will complete a sample of 10 percent of the ADs that pertain to each fleet of airplanes at the air carriers they oversee by June 30.

Since 1998, the FAA has used the risk-based Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) to oversee the nation’s air carriers. Air carriers are responsible for operating at the highest level of safety, and FAA inspectors use their skills and knowledge to monitor and enforce compliance with federal regulations. ATOS takes a proactive approach that goes beyond just ensuring compliance with regulations. The FAA continues to take enforcement action when air carriers do not comply with regulations

“The results show that our overall program is working and delivering incredibly high levels of compliance and record levels of safety,” Sturgell concluded. “These new action items provide new tracking mechanisms and avenues for communication that will be vital additions to the data-driven system.”