Report criticizes oversight by FAA
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
The federal government provides weak oversight of 13,000 private contractors it uses to inspect and certify airlines' planes and aircraft repairs, the Government Accountability Office said.
The GAO report recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration evaluate all certification programs involving its contractors "” or "designees" "” and improve management. The FAA relies on contractors to perform 90% of its certification work, the report says.
The GAO began looking into the adequacy of the FAA's programs in March 2003 after a USA TODAY article on the crash of a Swissair jet. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., requested the study.
The article documented faults with an interactive entertainment system on the jet, which caught fire and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Nova Scotia in September 1998. Documents showed the entertainment system was incorrectly installed and improperly certified by private individuals and companies representing the FAA. All 229 people aboard the flight, which had taken off from New York, died.
After the article, Canada's Transportation Safety Board concluded the crash was most likely caused by an electrical wiring short-circuit. The board said that one or more wires connected to the entertainment system short-circuited, but it couldn't determine whether those wires or wiring for another aircraft system initiated the blaze.
DeFazio said the report suggests the government is overseeing critical safety programs "on a wing and a prayer." He said it shows FAA "cannot guarantee the effectiveness of the designee program, nor the safety and integrity of the aviation industry."
The GAO report points out various weaknesses in the FAA's oversight of contractors, including:
"¢ Inadequate surveillance and inconsistent interpretations of safety rules.
"¢ Lack of computer databases that reveal whether FAA staff are carrying out their oversight responsibilities.
"¢ Lack of refresher training for FAA staff.
"¢ Failure to quickly remove inactive, unqualified or poorly performing designees.
GAO said some aviation experts it consulted said contractors were chosen on the basis of connections to FAA officials. The FAA said personal knowledge of applicants for the certification programs and their work is appropriate.
The FAA said it "will carefully examine the expert opinions cited by the GAO." It says it has already taken steps to improve oversight and provide more training.
The agency said, "The continually improving U.S. safety record speaks for itself, due in large part to the work of the nation's designees."
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, said DOT "will review the GAO report carefully and take the appropriate steps."
It is outrageous that the FAA cites the "U.S. Safety Record". Swissair 111 was a U.S. built and certified aircraft. The entertainment system was U.S. built and certified. The flight was a Delta code-share, departing from New York carrying U.S. citizens. BUT IT DOESN'T COUNT!!! I am speechless.
Here is something someone very smart who knows everything there is to know about this sleezy entertainment system pointed out:
"Excerpts from the following FAA Order released four years after the
crash highlight how the agency had been caught off guard by the IFEN
project, and was now scrambling to regain control of projects submitted
by DAS stations like SBA. "
Guidance regarding off-site DAS projects.
FAA Order 8100.12
- The ability of the DAS to issue STCs is limited to those areas where
the DAS holder and DAS ARs have demonstrated competence. Part of the
basis for the DAS authorization is the DAS holder's and its AR's
experience and understanding of the products they alter, and
understanding of the design concepts introduced by the alteration.
- The DAS can not approve designs developed by others without having a
complete understanding of the design, and taking full responsibility for
the integrity and completeness of compliance findings for the design and
installation of the alteration. The DAS holder, as the applicant, is
responsible for overall alteration development, including design
integration, development of design and substantiation data, prototype
installation, and certification.
- The DAS coordinates with the FAA by providing a PNL detailing all
parties (other than the DAS holder) involvement in the design of the
- A DAS may issue STCs only for alterations that the DAS holder is able
to perform and return to service at its authorized facility.
- DAS procedure manuals must specify the makes and models of products
covered by the authorization, and the
types of alterations the DAS is authorized to approve. For example, a
procedure manual limitation may include: 'Avionic and Electrical System
Installations Boeing 727, 737, and 747 series', or 'Aircraft Interior
Installations Boeing 727 series'.
Conflicts of Interest
April 28, 2003
"The entire DAS concept is a conflict of interest. The very benefit of
its intended existence (what some refer to as 'one stop shopping') is in
direct conflict with dissimilar redundancy principles used in
safety-critical design standards. One should no more desire 'one stop
shopping' for aircraft modifications than one should accept 'single
point failures' that can lead to catastrophic hazards."
"For consulting DERs, the unwillingness to bite the hand that feeds them
is worse, because many consulting DERs make the lion's share (if not
all) of their living by servicing customers who need design data
approved. If you get a reputation as a consulting DER for being 'hard
nosed' about design approvals and compliance findings, suddenly no one
is knocking on your door asking you to use your magic brain and magic
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