Since 2003, more than 73 million planes have flown safely in the United States. The low aviation accident rate is evidence of the FAA's diligence when it comes to enforcing safety rules and regulations.
Anonymous anecdotes about warning lights that actually did their job aside, USA Today's cover article today understates the Federal Aviation Administration's vigilant oversight of airplane safety.
- If an aircraft is found to be unsafe to fly, the FAA does not hesitate to keep it on the ground.
- When maintenance standards are violated, the FAA levies fines and increases scrutiny of any carrier that is out of compliance.
FAA inspectors are out everyday looking for trends and potential safety violations before they become larger problems. Inspectors review airline safety systems, including quality assurance programs and other reported data.
As FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said:
“Our inspectors are hard at work every day across the country looking for any safety issues at airlines. When we find an apparent violation of our safety rules we conduct an investigation, pursue civil penalties when necessary and require the airline to correct the problems.”
Contrary to the assertion in USA Today, we are not allowing flights to leave the ground in "unsafe condition."
It's a bit ironic when you consider that only yesterday we announced a $2.5 million fine against American Eagle for using incorrect takeoff weights.
And when we do find a maintenance violation, even that does not mean an aircraft is unsafe to fly.
Of course, we want all maintenance violations corrected to maintain the level of safety in the system, and we work vigilantly to make sure they are. But airplanes are complex machines built with checks and redundancies to maintain safety. I've been doing a lot of flying over the past year, and not once have I doubted the safety of my aircraft. Not once.
And this idea that repair work done overseas is somehow of lesser quality is patently absurd. Foreign repair stations are re-certificated every 12 to 24 months by the FAA and inspected on a regular basis. All airlines sign off on maintenance performed on their aircraft, whether the work is done at a domestic or foreign repair station.
I'm even more perturbed by the allegation that the FAA has a culture that ignores the Inspector General. Actions FAA has taken over the years are consistent with the Inspector General's recommendations on maintenance issues. For example, we have:
- Revised our regulations on how repair stations operate;
- Given our inspectors guidance and new software to perform risk assessments; and
- Improved how we track and share information about safety inspections
Look, it's very simple. When planes are unsafe, they are grounded. When airlines are not operating to the highest levels of safety, they are subject to stiff fines.
The only thing Administrator Babbitt and the entire FAA can be accused of is working aggressively to make sure airlines comply with our rigorous safety standards. End of story.