FAA Safety Inspectors Improperly Allowed Aircraft to Fly

The Office of Special Counsel today wrote to the President and Congress to reveal that “safety inspectors at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have improperly approved aircraft for commercial operations without first reviewing critical safety information that in some cases would have prohibited their operation.”

That sounds pretty scary and this is going to get some coverage but it turns out that most of the issues didn’t actually involve safety issues. They included things like expired registrations. And the majority dealt with small charter aircraft.


In one example, some charter operators were allowed to fly with exit doors that weren’t easily accessible during an emergency, a violation of regulations, according to the Special Counsel.

The investigation stems from a whistleblower. The FAA is now “checking the records of more than 11,000 aircraft that may be out of compliance with safety rules or improperly registered.”

That’s not great. But it also isn’t surprising. While the FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization includes some of the best professionals in government they’re not the reason we have safe air travel.

Whatever lapses occurred we had (and continue to have) exceptionally safe air travel. And this underscores that the driver here is something other than government inspectors. There’s a tremendous safety culture at the airlines themselves. There’s a tremendous financial incentive to maintain safety. Insurers demand it. Partner airlines demand it.

And expired registrations shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. One of the President’s planes had a lapsed registration while he was running for office. Registration would have cost $5 but it fell through the cracks. And they solved the issue by having him sell the plane to himself.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The biggest driver of airline safety should be the moral imperative to avoid murdering scores of innocent people of all ages as well as a number of airline employees.

    As with every other industry where public safety is at stake, moral obligations and financial incentives are insufficient to ensure a level of safety the public would be comfortable with. In every business, safety is but one of many concerns, financial and otherwise.

    For example, a few months ago I was on a CRJ in a huge line for takeoff. The expected wait made an on-time arrival unlikely. The pilot said he would see if there was a way to expedite our departure. A few minutes later we exited the line on the taxiway and took the runway “midfield.” I estimate that there was enough runway to meet the standards for the CRJ to be able to clear a 35′ object or safely reject takeoff if there was an engine failure (assuming emergency procedures were properly implemented and no other complications arose). So the pilot broke no mandatory safety rules. Still, a margin of safety was sacrificed in the name of on-time statistics. All of the other CRJs waited and used the whole runway.

    If financial considerations were the dominant driver for airline safety, then safety would seem to be purely a matter of benefit/cost analysis. Airlines might be better off financially if they worked pilots 100 hours a month rather than 60, let’s say, even if that meant pilot fatigue contributed to a crash every once in a while.

    Government regulation and inspections to ensure those regulations are being followed make the aviation industry significantly safer than merely relying on financial incentives and moral obligations.

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