Federal regulations require U.S. air carriers to verify the airworthiness of aircraft following major repairs or maintenance. To perform these maintenance checks, American Airlines (AA) established a flight test program. In February 2017, the Allied Pilots Association (APA)—which represents AA’s pilots—contacted us about multiple safety issues at the AA flight test program, including the use of unqualified pilots. APA stated that concerns placed in an earlier letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had remained “largely unaddressed for over 18 months.” We initiated an audit to assess the effectiveness of FAA’s actions in response to safety concerns about the AA flight test program. Specifically, we examined how (1) FAA’s oversight office for American Airlines addressed concerns about the flight test program and (2) the Agency processed and responded to a letter to the Federal Aviation Administrator questioning the integrity of FAA’s oversight of the flight test program.
What We Found
FAA’s oversight office for American Airlines lacked objectivity in its review. While FAA requires inspectors to provide impartial treatment, the inspector in this case seems to have been affected by his relationship with AA personnel and the 28 years he spent working with the carrier. While the Agency has a tool for assessing its relationships with carriers, the tool did not account for these risk factors. In addition, the Agency used a “best guess” method to determine who should respond to APA’s written allegations, and ultimately routed the letter back to the target of the complaint for response. Due to a lack of oversight guidance, FAA also provided varying responses to APA and OIG regarding the requirements for the flight test program. As a result, APA received neither a comprehensive nor an accurate response to its concerns.
FAA concurred with our seven recommendations to improve its oversight of the flight test program, as well as its ability to respond to safety concerns.
Closed on 02.10.2020
No. 1 to FAA
Conduct an independent review of FAA's oversight of American Airlines' flight operations to determine whether controls are in place and effective in preventing single points of failure; develop and implement corrective actions, if necessary.
Closed on 05.27.2022
No. 2 to FAA
Modify the existing tool used to evaluate the objectivity of inspectors to incorporate risk factors such as non-routine operations and the length of time inspectors oversee the same air carrier.
Closed on 09.08.2020
No. 3 to FAA
Develop and implement controls requiring oversight office staff to resolve complaints and follow key policy requirements such as directly contacting complainants and documenting investigations.
Closed on 06.30.2020
No. 4 to FAA
Establish and implement criteria for evaluating correspondence to ensure safety complaints are routed to FAA's Office of Audit and Evaluation.
Closed on 02.06.2020
No. 5 to FAA
Develop and implement inspector guidance on FAA's oversight requirements for flight test operations.
Closed on 10.31.2018
No. 6 to FAA
Provide the Allied Pilots Association with a revised response to its complaint based on results from the October 2017 independent assessment of the American Airlines flight test program.
Closed on 10.31.2018
No. 7 to FAA
Develop and implement a corrective action plan to address the recommendations made by the October 2017 independent assessment of the American Airlines flight test program.