- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

The federal government today announced changes to its airline inspection system to avoid the kinds of safety lapses that led to the grounding of thousands of aircraft this month.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will more closely monitor inspection schedules at airports nationwide, giving airlines less discretion to resolve their own safety problems.

“These steps will help make inspectors and managers even more accountable, keep airlines focused on safety and minimize disruptions for travelers,” Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said at an afternoon press conference outside FAA headquarters in Washington.

Mrs. Peters said she assembled a panel of FAA and American Airlines experts to prepare a report within two weeks about how safety oversights could have been avoided.

Other measures she announced include a new requirement that senior managers at FAA field offices validate voluntary safety disclosures by airlines and a program for alerting key personnel when a safety inspection is overdue.

The FAA also is revising its ethics rules to require a “cooling-off period” before FAA inspectors can work for an airline they previously oversaw.

The remedial safety measures follow weeks of airplane groundings to allow the FAA to inspect them. The FAA grounded the aircraft in response to whistleblower disclosures that Southwest Airlines flew dozens of Boeing 737s after required inspections were due.

FAA inspectors testified before Congress that airlines were allowed to report safety problems voluntarily, sometimes without follow-up government safety inspections. Some FAA managers who overlooked safety issues for airlines were hired by them later, the inspectors said.

The FAA fined Southwest $10.2 million. The agency also grounded thousands of aircraft from Southwest, American, United and Delta airlines for safety inspections, primarily of wiring systems.

The groundings led to widespread delays for passengers. American Airlines estimated the groundings of about 3,300 of its aircraft and subsequent passenger delays will cost it $30 million.

Todays action by Secretary Peters is long overdue recognition that the safety oversight between the FAA and the airlines isnt working as well as it should,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat.

Last week, Mr. Rockefeller called on the FAA to fire supervisors who shared blame for allowing commercial aircraft to fly beyond their inspection dates. He is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on aviation operation, safety and security.

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