FAA Lacks a Reliable Model for Determining the Number of Flight Standards Safety Inspectors It Needs
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 This is due in part to continued concerns with the model’s incomplete, inaccurate, and outdated data.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.