U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters Announces New Steps to Improve FAA's Aviation Safety Program

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters today directed the Federal Aviation Administration to implement 13 new safety recommendations from an independent review team tasked with reviewing the current U.S. aviation safety system.

“The mark of an effective safety system is its ability to constantly improve and adapt. Today, the Independent Review Team has delivered a blueprint that will assure continued safe skies ahead for America,” Secretary Peters said.

The Secretary said the team’s report confirms the basic approach to aviation safety in the United States has generated unprecedented results, but that there are ways to make the system even safer. She said the 13 recommendations in the report “will improve both the intensity and the integrity of the FAA’s safety program,” and that the agency will begin implementing the recommendations immediately.

A key recommendation by the review team, Secretary Peters committed that the FAA will have guidance in place by the end of the year to ensure that airworthiness directives and their deadlines are fully understood by all appropriate FAA officials and airlines.

Another recommendation called for more rigorous and systematic oversight of the FAA’s voluntary disclosure program. The Secretary noted that the FAA has changed its procedures to require senior managers to review voluntary disclosure reports. She said that moving forward, FAA also will implement use of a new automated data system to help track and ensure compliance.

The Independent Review Team also recommended new safeguards against FAA personnel developing “overly cozy” relationships with the airlines they regulate through regular audits of field offices where the managerial team has been in place for more than three years. “The intent is clear: make sure everyone understands that the only customer that matters in the end is the flying public,” Secretary Peters said.

Consistent with recommendations to improve the FAA’s safety culture, the Secretary also charged the agency with developing, and having underway within six months, a new training program for safety managers and inspectors.

By this time next year, the Secretary announced, the FAA will also have the results of the recommended study of the right balance between the time inspectors spend inputting and analyzing data and the time they spend in the field. “Understanding safety data is essential, but making sure it is accurate is vital,” the Secretary said.

Members of the Independent Review Team include Ambassador Edward W. Stimpson, who served as chairman; J. Randolph Babbitt; William O. McCabe; Malcolm K. Sparrow; and the Hon. Carl W. Vogt.

The access the Independent Review Team’s full report, go to www.dot.gov/affairs/IRT_Report.pdf.

The Independent Review Team’s 13 Aviation Safety Recommendations

Recommendation 1: The FAA should retain the right to ground any plane not in compliance with an applicable AD. Inspectors should not be required or expected to conduct any type of risk-assessment before taking action on AD non-compliance.

ACCEPTED – FAA’s ongoing review of AD compliance will address inspector requirements and expectations. The full AD review program will be implemented by December 30, 2008.

Recommendation 2: The FAA should provide timely information about new AD requirements, in advance of compliance dates, to all relevant FAA field offices. Those offices should then be responsive to any carrier that requests assistance in the form of progress-towards-compliance audits or reviews, in advance of the AD compliance dates.

ACCEPTED – FAA’s ongoing review of AD compliance will address information dissemination and carrier requests among others. The full AD review program will be implemented by December 30, 2008.

Recommendation 3: The FAA’s Voluntary Programs are vitally important to the future of aviation safety, and should be retained. [Main report paragraph 5.1]

ACCEPTED – The FAA will continue to enhance its Voluntary Disclosure Programs.

Recommendation 4: The FAA must abide by the rules circumscribing these programs in order to prevent the erosion of compliance.

ACCEPTED – The FAA will immediately reinforce the importance of these rules and require higher-level management review of all disclosures.

Recommendation 5: Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP) data have not been routinely analyzed at a higher level within the FAA. There are two quite different purposes for such analysis, both of which the FAA should formally recognize.

ACCEPTED – Data from many sources can be used to make sure these programs are operating effectively. The FAA will immediately begin implementation of a program to gather and analyze this data.

Recommendation 6: The number of voluntary disclosures made by a regulated entity is a composite measure, and should not be used either as a performance metric or as a risk-factor, in any context.

ACCEPTED – The FAA will review its risk assessment tools and eliminate areas where there is an incentive to drive down the number of disclosures. This review will be completed and implemented by December 30, 2008.

Recommendation 7: It is clear to the IRT that participation in all of the voluntary disclosure programs is dependent on the assurance of confidentiality for information submitted. The IRT believes the FAA should resist any efforts to relax or eliminate any restrictions on disclosure.

ACCEPTED – This is fundamental to the future of these programs and FAA will stress the importance with all constituencies.

Recommendation 8: The FAA should explicitly focus on wide divergences in regulatory ideologies, where they exist, as a source for potentially serious error.

ACCEPTED – To be implemented by December 30, 2008.

Recommendation 9: Training for Managers and Principal Inspectors should explicitly cover the management of contrasting regulatory views within the workforce, methods for moderating extremes in regulatory style, and methods for optimizing the regulatory effectiveness and coherence across a diverse team of inspectors.

ACCEPTED – To be implemented by March 31, 2009.

Recommendation 10: The FAA should deploy the Internal Assistance Capability (IAC), recently established, to review the composition and conduct of any offices or teams identified under recommendation one above.

ACCEPTED – To be implemented by June 30, 2009.

Recommendation 11: The FAA should also deploy the IAC on a routine basis to review the culture and conduct of any CMO where the managerial team has remained intact for more than three years.

ACCEPTED – To be implemented by September 30, 2009.

Recommendation 12: The IRT would urge the FAA to embrace its own operational role in risk identification and risk mitigation as formally and energetically as it has embraced its role in overseeing industry’s SMS implementations; and to expedite its implementation planning in this area.

ACCEPTED – The FAA will develop and implement its own internal safety management system before the end of 2010.

Recommendation 13: We recommend that without delay the FAA commission a time-and-motion study of its front-line inspection operation, to empirically assess the time-demands of ATOS and other IT implementations. With the results of such a study in hand, agency leadership should establish some clear expectations regarding the proportion of an inspector’s work-week that data-entry, data-analysis, and other computer-related tasks should reasonably consume, and monitor progress towards more reasonable ratios as ATOS and other IT systems are improved over time.

ACCEPTED – The study will commence in March 2009 and be completed within one year. Timeframe for implementation will depend on the recommendations.