Inspector general: FAA’s ineffective oversight of Southwest airlines put passengers at risk

Feb. 12 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general said the Federal Aviation Administration has not effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ risk management system, in a new report.

The report released Tuesday states that the FAA has allowed Southwest to operate aircraft that do not meet U.S. aviation standards. It also accused the agency of failing to provide its inspectors with proper training to ensure the highest degree of safety while overseeing Southwest, putting 17.2 million passengers at risk.

“As a result, FAA cannot provide assurance that the carrier operates at the highest degree of safety in the public’s interest, as required by law,” the report states.

The inspector general’s office said it received a hotline report detailing issues with FAA’s oversight of Southwest in 2018 and operational issues at the airline. Later that year Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 experienced an engine failure that resulted in the first U.S. passenger death in nine years. The Department of Transportation initiated an audit into the FAA’s oversight of the airline.

Upon completing the review, the Department of Transportation found that Southwest flies aircraft with unresolved safety concerns, the airline regularly and frequently communicated incorrect aircraft weight and balance data to pilots, and it operates previously owned aircraft that do not meet U.S. aviation standards.

In these instances, FAA accepted the air carrier’s justification that the issues identified were low safety risks and its inspectors did not properly evaluate the risk assessment of the safety culture of the airline, allowing the unsafe flights to continue.

The inspector issued 11 recommendations to the FAA, calling on the agency to retrain its inspectors and managers, guarantee Southwest complies with regulatory requirements for its aircraft and ensure that safety management systems put in place by airlines aren’t used as a substitute for regulatory compliance.

“FAA concurred with all 11 of our recommendations to improve its oversight of Southwest Airlines’ systems for managing risk and provided appropriate planned actions and completion dates,” the inspector general said.

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