Friday, April 18, 2008
Fears of flying
News this week that hundreds of planes were grounded because of maintenance lapses at major U.S. airlines means the Federal Aviation Administration has joined the growing list of federal agencies doing a lousy job in the Bush administration. The poor performance of the U.S. government under President Bush goes far beyond the ill-planned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of standing in the world community, the easily preventable mortgage crisis and the humiliatingly botched response to Hurricane Katrina. Now, we're just beginning to find out that the FAA stopped doing its job years ago and was leaving it up to the airlines to inspect and fix their own planes without serious oversight. Testifying before a Senate subcommittee Thursday, acting FAA administrator Robert Sturgell indicated self-inspection was the way the system was designed to work. "I do not want the FAA to be the quality-control unit for each airline," Sturgell told a Senate appropriations panel. "I want them to check quality control." Even though having airlines do their own inspections is an obvious conflict of interest, it's still better than having no one inspect planes, which was what the FAA was doing. The FAA hadn't checked the inspection records of Southwest Airlines for 10 years, an investigation revealed. The whistleblower, a transportation department inspector named General Calvin Scovel, testified about an "overly collaborative" relationship between airline maintenance personnel and FAA management in Dallas regarding compliance with FAA safety directives. Maintenance lapses at Southwest triggered an increase in inspections nationwide that also revealed lapses at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and other carriers.