FAA's response to this critical assessment of their work was somewhat surprising. They concurred with all the findings and recommendations of the Inspector General and simply stated that the inspection process would be strengthened.
A NASIP inspection has sometimes been a difficult time for any air carrier. The Maintenance department is usually singled out for intense scrutiny simply because this is usually where most non-compliance is found. However, NASIP procedures will no longer apply to the new Air Transportation Oversight System of continuous data inspection.
The critical IG report on the ValuJet examination resulted in FAA fine tuning an inspection process to replace NASIP. The ATOS (Air Transportation Oversight System) has now been in place since October 1998, but only applies to the ten largest air carriers for the time being. It is a continuous data collection and evaluation inspection system. ATOS is set up to automatically ring bells when something is amiss with the airline in question.
CSET (Certification, Standardization and Evaluation Team) is a supporting component of ATOS. CSET was created in February 1997 to provide a national team of experienced aviation safety inspectors trained in certification procedures and requirements. This newly established group of inspectors supports the ATOS system, and will also be available to fill the void left by the demise of NASIP when an inspection requires their expertise. The plan provides comprehensive surveillance for each airline entity that will continuously monitor the regulatory health of the airline. Joint FAA/air carrier safety teams will analyze the information to determine any corrective action that is necessary.
Inspector General oversight
There is no doubt that the Inspector General's evaluation played a significant role in FAA starting a new approach. The pressure from ValuJet resulted in some heads rolling, meaning retirements at 800 Independence.
After the initial phase of the new system is completed, it will be applied to the rest of the airline and repair station industry as resources permit. This will be a major task at first and technicians and management will play a significant role in the process.
What this means for air carrier maintenance staff
The Inspector General focused on several significant maintenance areas that should get management's and technician's attention. Since the new approach to compliance has to do with a continuous process, the IG, CSET, and local inspectors place a strong emphasis on the FAR mandated (FAR 121.373) Continuing Analysis and Surveillance Program (CAS). It is easy to see why this is the case. This requirement is a fundamental step toward ATOS. Once experience with an internal CAS system is in place, it is a relatively easy move into ATOS. This is clearly one of the reasons that a continuous maintenance analysis system is important and required.
In addition, to insure that independent review continues, FAA plans to include all air carriers in the new surveillance system. This system, as noted, looks more at trend analysis and will not require the type of inspection process found in NASIP. That's the good news.
But don't get the impression that you won't be inspected. The Inspector General's final comment to FAA was that independent inspection assessments should continue in some form until such a time as ATOS is fully implemented and shows that it works. Lets see what develops.
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