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FAA Lacks a Reliable Model for Determining the Number of Flight Standards Safety Inspectors It Needs

Required by the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010
Project ID: 
AV2013099

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employs approximately 4,000 aviation safety inspectors and 40 analysts who play a key role in helping to maintain the United States’ remarkable air carrier safety record. Due in part to concerns raised after the 2009 Colgan Air accident, Congress directed our office in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 to evaluate how FAA assigns inspectors to Part 121 air carriers, including assessing the number and experience levels of inspectors and analysts, and how inspectors use surveillance methods to supplement their regular inspections.

Our audit found that although FAA introduced a new inspector staffing model in October 2009, FAA has not fully relied on the model’s results to determine the number and placement of inspectors needed. This is due in part to continued concerns with the model’s incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated data. Without a reliable inspector staffing model, FAA’s process for assessing the number of inspectors and analysts it needs does not differ significantly from prior ineffective methods. For example, inspector staffing processes vary by region, which can lead to subjective and inconsistent staffing decisions. Finally, FAA supplements its regular inspections through its geographic surveillance program, a helpful oversight tool. However, we identified concerns with geographic inspector training and workload levels that may undermine the program’s success.

We made seven recommendations to enhance FAA’s inspector staffing model and geographic surveillance program; FAA concurred with six and partially concurred with one. We are requesting additional information or a revised response for two recommendations.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

Closed on 08.15.2015
No. 1 to FAA

Develop a plan with milestones to address the model's shortcomings and regularly report progress relative to plan milestones.

No. 2 to FAA

Conduct and document a variance analysis of each model's results and assess staffing at field offices where the on-board staffing level varies widely from the current model projection to verify if immediate staffing action is needed in the interest of safety.

No. 3 to FAA

Verify inspectors are following existing guidance to update and maintain the accuracy of databases prior to running iterations of the staffing model.

No. 4 to FAA

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the staffing model as compared to the NRC recommendations, assess the quality of the data in the model and identify the steps needed to make the staffing model more viable.

Closed on 01.11.2017
No. 5 to FAA

Implement comprehensive and recurrent training for managers and inspectors on the staffing model.

No. 6 to FAA

Establish a comprehensive analyst training program with guidance clarifying their roles, responsibilities, and training needs and establish a method to determine an appropriate number of air carriers per analyst.

Closed on 02.03.2014
No. 7 to FAA

Clarify requirements and develop a process to ensure completion of training on specific air carrier policies and procedures for inspectors who participate in the geographic surveillance program