Commercial aviation in the United States is one of the safest forms of transportation in the world. This impressive safety record is due in part to safety controls developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airline industry to ensure that aircraft are operated and maintained according to the highest standards. However, recent safety events and disclosures—such as allegations that mechanics have been forced to shortcut repairs to aircraft as well as emergency landings and aborted takeoffs caused by mechanical problems—remind us that FAA oversight of maintenance programs is paramount.
In 2016, the Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we review the overall effectiveness of FAA’s oversight of air carrier maintenance programs. The Congressmen questioned whether FAA demonstrates a sustained ability to account for mergers, rapid expansion, cost cutting, and other factors that could affect air carriers’ decisions about maintenance. They were particularly concerned about whether corrective actions taken by air carriers actually address root causes of maintenance lapses. Accordingly, our objectives for this audit are to assess (1) FAA’s oversight of air carrier maintenance programs and (2) whether FAA considers factors such as mergers, rapid expansion, or cost-cutting initiatives when adjusting its oversight of air carrier maintenance programs.