“To further enhance aviation safety, FAA must continue to lead and implement strong oversight controls to help ensure that American Airlines more closely analyzes risks to its operations, adequately identifies root causes of issues, and develops appropriate and effective corrective actions that will prevent reoccurrence of maintenance non-compliances,” the report said.
The IG identified several instances in which it said inspectors failed to push for a thorough analysis of problems. By not requiring American to identify the root cause of issues or by allowing the airline to blame “human error,” the agency missed opportunities to prevent the same problem from reoccurring, the report said.
The report, however, suggested that lack of rigor may not be the fault of inspectors, noting that the agency accepted “insufficient root causes in part because FAA inspectors were not adequately trained on root cause analysis.”
In an emailed statement, the FAA said it “agrees with many of the recommendations in the report and is taking steps to address them.” In its written response included in the IG’s report, the agency said it is “strongly committed to continuous improvement of that record and will continuously implement enhancements to our oversight programs as they are identified.”
However, the FAA also defended its oversight approach, characterizing it as a “risk management-based approach that has sustained an exemplary safety record.”
In some instances, the IG’s findings mirror those in previous examinations focused on the FAA’s oversight of maintenance practices at Allegiant Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Those reviews also identified shortcomings in training and the agency’s ability to ensure carriers were taking actions to remedy problems cited by inspectors.
American Airlines said Friday it welcomed the scrutiny and emphasized that safety guides every decision at the airline.
“In addition to the FAA, we are in constant communication with other regulators and welcome their review and feedback,” American said in a statement. “We plan to work with the FAA to ensure we take positive action and continuously refine and improve our safety controls.”
The findings were of concern to some lawmakers, including Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who along with Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), requested the IG’s review.
“Today’s report reveals some troubling information regarding American Airlines maintenance and the FAA’s oversight of the airline’s maintenance program,” DeFazio said in a statement.
He added that he found the FAA’s lack of rigor particularly worrisome, pledging to ensure the FAA quickly implements recommendations made in the report.
Oversight of American Airlines’ maintenance practices is managed by a group of roughly 60 FAA inspectors based at offices in Irving, Tex., and Coraopolis, Pa.
Under a new system adopted in 2015, the agency has taken a more collaborative approach to oversight, working with air carriers to identify and address problems. However, the IG report noted, nearly six years after the program was put into place, the FAA is still refining its guidance for inspectors.
The report raised concerns about the FAA’s ability to ensure that American accurately characterizes the level of risk posed by certain maintenance issues, noting that while this is the “most challenging part of the risk management process,” it also enables airlines to prioritize which issues to address most quickly.
The report found that inspectors did not evaluate whether American’s risk ratings were accurate, in part, because inspectors said they weren’t adequately trained.
“As a result, FAA could not verify whether the 73 percent of findings that American Airlines rated as ‘low’ or ‘very low’ were indeed low risk,” the report found. As a consequence, the report noted: “This also limits FAA’s ability to effectively assess the carrier’s controls for those safety risks.”