U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters Announces Steps to Improve Aviation Safety Inspection Program

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters today announced a series of measures to improve the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) safety inspection program, and minimize travel disruptions caused when airlines abruptly ground aircraft. The Secretary also tasked a newly created independent review team with crafting recommendations to improve the current aviation safety system.

“The mark of an effective safety system is the ability to constantly improve and adapt,” said Secretary Peters. “These steps will help make inspectors and managers more accountable, keep airlines focused on safety and minimize disruptions for travelers.”

The Secretary said the FAA would begin implementing a new program to track the inspections being conducted by field offices that will alert key personnel whenever a safety inspection is overdue. She added that the agency would begin requiring senior level officials within the agency’s field offices to be accountable for accepting voluntary safety disclosures from airlines and to revise ethics rules to require a cooling-off period before FAA inspectors can work for an airline they used to oversee or interact while at the agency.

In addition, she announced that the FAA is establishing a new National Safety Inspection Review team. This new team will be deployed to air carriers to conduct focused and comprehensive safety reviews. She added that the team’s deployments would be based on where the safety data indicates problems are most likely to occur.

The Secretary said she was asking both the FAA and American Airlines for assessments, within 14 days, of what happened, why it happened and what could have been done differently. She added that “their reports will go a long way in explaining why so many aircraft had to be grounded and so many travelers had to be inconvenienced.”

Secretary Peters also announced that she has tasked the Department’s Office of Aviation Safety Enforcement in the Office of General Counsel to gauge whether airlines have adequate plans in place to accommodate passengers should a carrier have to abruptly ground its aircraft.

Saying that “we must do more, though, than respond to the lessons of the past few weeks,” the Secretary announced that she has created an outside team of aviation and safety experts to evaluate and craft recommendations to improve the FAA’s implementation of the aviation safety system and its culture of safety.

The Secretary said the FAA’s current approach to safety oversight was both sound and delivering decisive results. She added though that the last few weeks had made it clear that “a good system can always be made better.” So she has tasked the team with developing recommendations within 120 days on how the agency can do an even better job safeguarding the skies.

The members of the outside team are:

  • J. Randolph Babbitt served as the President and CEO of the Air Line Pilots Association and has been active with the organization since 1981. He is currently a partner with Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm providing specialized aviation and labor consulting services.
  • William O. McCabe served as former Director of Aviation DuPont and Member of Board of Governors at the Flight Safety Foundation. He has chaired the Aerospace Industries Association of America’s Civil Aviation Council and is a member of the AIA Board of Governors. He also is on the Safety Committee of the National Business Aviation Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation.
  • Malcolm K. Sparrow is Professor of the Practice of Public Management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Faculty Chair of the Executive Program on Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies. He served 10 years with the British Police Service, rising to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector.
  • Ambassador Edward W. Stimpson was appointed by President Clinton in July 1999 as the Representative of the United States of America on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). For 25 years, Mr. Stimpson was President of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), representing more than 50 companies involved in the manufacture of aircraft and component parts.
  • Hon. Carl W. Vogt was appointed by President Bush in 1992 as a Member and as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. In 1996, FAA Administrator David Hinson appointed Mr. Vogt as a member of the FAA Ninety Day Safety Review Committee. Also in 1996, Mr. Vogt was appointed by President Clinton as a member of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.

“Taken together, these new measures will improve aviation safety, answer tough questions and put travelers at ease,” said Secretary Peters. “They will build on the historic accomplishments of this agency and the record commitment to safety that everyone involved in commercial aviation in this country shares.”