There has been some ugly American reporting lately of a problem largely hushed up in Australia, which is the regulatory capture of air safety authorities by the airlines they are supposed to regulate.
Regulatory capture is a relationship in which an authority charged with upholding the law perceives itself as being the agent of the regulated, rather than the enforcer of the regulations.
The US Department of Transport released an Inspector General’s report which found that the Federal Aviation Authority, the equivalent of CASA or the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia, was deficient in its oversight of American Airlines’ maintenance program.
It found that the FAA “lacked the rigor needed” to uncover “weaknesses” that created safety concerns in American Airlines, which has had a string of very serious incidents and crashes in recent years, and is relevant to Australians travelling in the US in that it is the preferred Qantas code share or affiliate partner on key domestic US routes through the Oneworld marketing alliance.
A full report can be read on Air Transport World Online as a non-subscriber, however a subscription to this service is strongly recommended for its depth and its timely reporting of aviation issues in the US in particular.
Referring to allegations of safety impropriety made early in 2008 the report says:
An IG investigation found that “FAA failed to assess systems for monitoring air carrier maintenance programs, identify root causes of maintenance deferrals, ensure properly trained mechanics performed certain required inspections, and ensure prompt responses to safety recommendations and service bulletins.”
The IG said it “confirmed the allegation that American was not following procedures for required maintenance inspections. We found that FAA has not taken appropriate action to address American’s long standing failure to comply with required maintenance inspection procedures.”
Australia had a similar experience with Qantas in 2008, leading to a ‘special’ CASA audit of Qantas, but which unlike the US audit, was suppressed because Qantas and CASA are sacred and above detailed public accountability or questioning in this country according to both sides of Federal Parliament.
As reported at the time in Crikey, the ‘special’ audit, which saw CASA actually look closely at Qantas , discovered that it had no idea what Qantas had been up to, shortly after Qantas turned itself in over its failure to complete a compulsory airworthiness directive to repair a flaw in the forward pressure bulkhead of five aged Boeing 737-400s used on Canberra routes.
Qantas had kept the jets flying in contravention of its obligations for five years. This episode was airbrushed out of public view in the general media, and ignored like a bad fart in church in Federal Parliament.
The DOT report is a reminder that the Australian approach to air safety oversight, ‘hush hush, all is well’ is contrary to the integrity and transparency of the public administration of regulations that are supposed to keep the travelling public safe.
Rather like trying to keep the lethality of the incompetently administered home ceiling insulation program out of public view.