FAA Oversight Is Not Keeping Pace With the Changes Occurring in the Regional Airline Industry
What We Looked At
Regional air carriers operate over 40 percent of the Nation’s commercial flights, making over 10,000 trips a day. These carriers began operating in the 1970s, primarily to provide flights to cities unable to support major airline service. While it has not suffered a major accident since 2009, the industry has recently undergone significant changes—including consolidations—and changes in requirements for pilots.
In light of these changes, the Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we analyze FAA’s process of identifying periods of growth and determine the Agency’s ability to respond to changes in regional air carrier operations. Accordingly, our audit objectives were to (1) evaluate FAA’s process for identifying periods of transition and growth of regional air carriers and (2) evaluate how FAA adjusts its oversight to respond to changes in regional air carrier operations.
What We Found
FAA’s process for identifying periods of transition and growth at regional air carriers is ineffective in key areas. FAA’s tools to evaluate air carrier risk are confusing and subjective, and limit the Agency’s ability to be proactive and weight specific risks. Furthermore, inspectors are hesitant to use the tool designed to detect potential financial problems because they do not have the knowledge or information they need to evaluate carriers’ financial conditions.
FAA inspectors also do not adjust air carrier surveillance in response to changes because their risk assessment tools are ineffective. Additionally, even when inspectors are able to identify areas of risk, Agency guidance is vague regarding how inspectors should adjust surveillance. Finally, the new oversight system relies heavily on inspector judgement. While sound inspector judgment is crucial for effective oversight, inspectors also need adequate tools and guidance to aid their decision making.
We are making 10 recommendations to FAA to improve its risk assessment tools, improve data sharing between offices, and improve the guidance for how inspectors should handle anonymous complaints. FAA concurred with all 10 recommendations.