June 01, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: TSA
Testimony delivered at a recent Congressional hearing on aviation safety indicated that FAA is making progress on shifting to a proactive, data-driven safety oversight system, but holes remain—as do concerns from industry about how the agency is enforcing its regulations.
The House aviation subcommittee hearing held April 25 spotlighted several aspects of aviation, with repair station oversight playing one of the starring roles. FAA's evolution of its risk-based oversight approach for repair stations “continues to be a challenge,” DOT Assistant Inspector General Jeffrey Guzzetti said in prepared testimony.
The new but now nearly five-year-old oversight system deployed for repair stations “still lacks the data and consistent implementation needed to be a true risk-based system,” he added.
Part of the challenge, Guzzetti indicated, is FAA's lack of confidence in its own data. Following a congressionally mandated National Research Council (NRC) study, FAA in 2009 introduced a new staffing model meant to help it with inspector workforce deployment. Guzetti's office is analyzing the new model, but already has concluded that the agency lacks confidence in the revised approach.
“We have determined that while FAA used the model to support an increase in the number of inspectors for its fiscal year 2012 budget request, it did not fully rely on the number projected by the model because FAA officials are not confident in the accuracy of the model's staffing,” Guzzetti told lawmakers. Guzzetti noted that FAA continues to refine the model, and his office plans to issue a report on the subject later this year.
Guzzetti's office also plans to issue a report in 2012 on repair station oversight, and early returns indicate that the findings won't be flattering. “FAA's surveillance at foreign and domestic repair stations also lacks the rigor needed to identify deficiencies and verify they have been addressed,” Guzzetti's testimony said.
Problems we identified during our 2003 review [“Air Carriers' Use of Aircraft Repair Stations, Report No. AV-2003-047] are still occurring. For example, we found systemic problems persist at repair stations in areas such as inadequacies in mechanic training, outdated tool calibration checks, and inaccurate work order documentation.”
Despite being required to review these areas, Guzzetti's team found during visits to repair stations that inspectors “had overlooked these types of deficiencies.”
On the industry side, ARSA Senior Vice President Gary Fortner also complained of FAA's inconsistency—in this case, with how its regulations are applied. Fortner, who runs Fortner Engineering, a hydraulic component repair and overhaul shop, shared a story of how an FAA inspector deemed one of his company's repair processes as “unapproved,” leading to an emergency suspension of the company's Part 145 repair station certificate. The finding came after 10 years of performing the repair with the full knowledge and de facto approval of a local FAA inspector.