Watchdog finds loopholes in American Airlines’ FAA surveillance


DALLAS (AP) – A government watchdog said on Friday that federal safety regulators routinely fail to ensure American Airlines tackles the root cause of maintenance faults when they are discovered.

The Department of Transportation inspector general said in some cases the Federal Aviation Administration closed compliance files before American took action to correct the problem.

The report raised questions about the FAA’s policy of relying on airlines’ “safety management systems” to detect and resolve problems before they become hazards.

In one case, American flew a plane with a broken emergency escape slide for nearly three years before reporting it to the FAA.

In another, no risk assessment was performed for an aircraft that had missing engine bushings and improperly installed struts holding the engines in place. The plane made 1,002 flights “in an unfit to fly condition,” according to the report.

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency “agrees with many of the report’s recommendations and is taking action to address them.”

American said it is proud of its safety record and stays in constant contact with regulators, including the FAA, and welcomes their comments.

“This has always been our approach: open and transparent communication and collaboration with our regulators and immediate action to address issues and ensure the continued safety of our airline and the industry,” said a spokesperson for the airline in an e-mailed statement. “We plan to work with the FAA to ensure we take positive action and continually refine and improve our security controls.”

The Inspector General’s office said that in 171 of 185 cases it reviewed, FAA inspectors took American at their word and accepted airlines’ analyzes “which failed to identify the real root cause of the problem. “. In nearly two dozen cases, the FAA closed compliance cases before American addressed the issues, according to the report.

The report also states that the FAA has not trained inspectors to judge the effectiveness of the US security management system. These are top-down systems that are supposed to help identify and resolve potential security issues. The FAA has required airlines to adopt such systems in 2018.

American has approximately 9,000 certified aircraft mechanics and inspectors at stations in the United States and around the world, with its largest maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The FAA has approximately 60 inspectors in Texas and Pennsylvania to oversee American maintenance facilities. This ratio means that the FAA relies heavily on the airline’s safety management system to keep dangerous planes from flying.

In 2015, the FAA changed its method of providing security from law enforcement to cooperation with airlines. During this period, the number of enforcement actions against American increased from 572 to 31. Incidents that were previously treated as enforcement issues were consistently classified as “compliance actions,” in which the company airline agrees to make changes.

American has not had a fatal accident since November 2001, but the Inspector General said reports of potentially dangerous maintenance practices raised concerns about the airline’s oversight by the FAA. In 2018, key lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee asked the Inspector General to review the FAA’s oversight of maintenance issues at American.


David Koenig can be contacted at

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