Given all that is at stake every time a plane takes flight, a new report questions Federal Aviation Administration oversight of Southwest Airlines is concerning. The bottom line conclusion from a Wall Street Journal article on a Transportation Department report is this: Southwest didn’t do enough to ensure the safety of its planes and the FAA didn’t do much about it.
Or as the Journal reports: “Following a roughly 18-month inquiry, the inspector general found FAA managers in the Dallas-area office that supervises Southwest routinely allowed the carrier ‘to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns.’”
Southwest flatly denied the findings and the FAA isn’t talking.
The report comes, though, at a time when the FAA has come under criticism for an uncomfortably cozy relationship with Boeing. There is increased concern about whether government inspectors and supervisors have become too close to the airlines they regulate.
Southwest’s initial statement that the Inspector general’s findings are unsubstantiated isn’t enough against the details the Journal outlined about the report.
Among the findings was this: “The audit reveals that initial FAA approval of mandatory maintenance certificates for 71 of 88 used aircraft — a process the agency told investigators typically takes three or four weeks — occurred in one day.
After problems with that process were identified, the FAA gave Southwest two years to fully inspect and verify that the planes — already phased into the fleet — met all safety requirements,” the Journal writes.
Airlines are in a precarious place now. Many travelers conflate, fairly or not, Boeing’s struggles over the 737 Max with the airline industry in general, and Southwest had signed up to be the largest customer of that model. It’s crucial, then, that Southwest ensure the flying public understands, point by point, what the company did to verify the safety of its planes, and why the approval of maintenance certificates happened in what appears to be an unusually fast fashion.
If there is not a reasonable explanation, that needs to come forward too. And there must be consequences, for both the airline and the FAA.
Beyond that, the FAA must dedicate itself to ensuring that it both is, and is perceived as, an arm’s-length regulator that puts passengers ahead of the industry it oversees.
— The Dallas Morning News