Restrictions On Former Aviation Safety Inspectors
By Jim Douglas
August 21, 2011 - The Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) issued a final rule that prohibits air carriers
and other certificate holders from employing certain
former FAA aviation safety inspectors as company
representatives to the agency for a period of two years
after they have left the agency.
public can rest assured that our aviation safety
inspectors will remain focused on protecting the flying
public without any conflicts of interest,” said
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“This rule establishes clear restrictions that will improve our safety culture here at the FAA and throughout the aviation industry,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
Certificate holders will be prohibited under certain conditions
from employing, or making a contractual arrangement with,
certain individuals who have worked for the FAA in the previous
two years to act as an agent or a representative in any matter
before the FAA.
restrictions will apply if the former FAA employee directly
served as or was responsible for the oversight of a Flight
Standards Service aviation safety inspector and had direct
responsibility to inspect, or oversee the inspection of, the
operations of the certificate holder. This rule will also apply
to persons who own or manage fractional ownership program
aircraft that are used to conduct certain commercial operations.
responds to concerns raised by Congress and the
DOT Inspector General in 2008
about the FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines. The DOT
Inspector General concluded that that the FAA office overseeing
the airline had developed an overly close relationship with the
airline and recommended that the FAA create post-employment
guidance that includes a “cooling-off” period to prohibit an air
carrier from hiring an aviation safety inspector who previously
inspected that air carrier.
According to SWA at that time, it discovered it had violated the AD requiring fuselage inspections on March 14, 2007, and notified an FAA principal maintenance inspector (PMI) the following day. Although FAA requires air carriers to ground non-compliant aircraft and its inspectors to ensure that carriers comply, the inspector did not direct SWA to ground the 46 affected aircraft.
Instead, the PMI
encouraged SWA to formally self-disclose the AD violation through its
Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP), which would allow the
carrier to avoid any penalties. FAA accepted the air carrier’s
self-disclosure on March 19, 2007, even though it had already accepted
multiple disclosures on AD violations. SWA continued to operate the
non-compliant aircraft on 1,451 flights for 8 days after the carrier
first notified FAA, carrying an estimated 145,000 passengers. OIG
estimated that, in total, aircraft flew in violation of the AD for up to
9 months, carrying 6 million passengers during this period.
Once it formally self-disclosed the violation, SWA stated that it was in compliance with the AD, meaning it had inspected or grounded all affected aircraft. However, two FAA inspectors (the whistleblowers in this case) and SWA officials reported that the PMI had knowingly permitted SWA to continue flying the identified aircraft even after SWA’s self-disclosure.
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