FAA Needs To Improve Risk Assessment Processes For Its Air Transportation Oversight System
On December 16, 2010, we issued our report on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS). FAA uses ATOS to conduct surveillance of nearly 100 airlines that transport more than 90 percent of U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic. While ATOS is conceptually sound, our prior reports have found that FAA needs to strengthen national oversight of the system. Following safety lapses at a major airline in 2008, the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure asked us to assess weaknesses systemwide. Accordingly, our audit objectives were to determine (1) whether FAA has completed timely ATOS inspections of air carriers’ policies and procedures for their most critical maintenance systems; (2) how effective ATOS performance inspections have been in testing and validating that these critical maintenance systems are working properly; and (3) how well FAA implemented ATOS for the remaining Part 121 air carriers and what, if any, oversight challenges FAA inspection offices face.
While FAA has worked to continuously improve ATOS, we found that FAA inspectors did not complete ATOS inspections of air carriers' maintenance policies and procedures or systems performance on time. In addition, FAA transitioned all of its Part 121 inspection offices to ATOS at the end of 2007, but--due in part to training gaps--some inspectors for smaller air carriers had difficulty adapting ATOS to those carriers' operations. We made seven recommendations to FAA to improve its data, training, and risk assessment processes for ATOS. FAA concurred with four of our seven recommendations and partially concurred with three.