The inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of
Transportation has begun an audit into the FAA's oversight of maintenance at
Allegiant Air and American Airlines.
The announcement comes less than a month after CBS's "60
Minutes" aired a scathing report that questioned Allegiant's safety record
as well as the rigor of the FAA's oversight of the airline.
Technically, the audit is not a new one. Rather, the DOT
said it is narrowing the scope of a broader audit of the FAA's oversight of air
maintenance that it began in June of last year. That audit, wrote DOT assistant
inspector general for aviation audits Matthew Hampton in a memo Wednesday, was
undertaken at the behest of members of the House transportation committee.
Initial results of the audit had already led auditors to
inform congressional staff in February that they would hone in on Allegiant and
American, Hampton wrote.
He said auditors had found that the FAA shifted its
oversight strategy from emphasizing enforcement to working with airlines to
address the causes for noncompliance of maintenance requirements. Auditors also
found that information sharing practices between air carriers and their FAA
oversight offices vary considerably.
Under the new scope of the audit, DOT inspectors will assess
the FAA's processes for investigating maintenance-related allegations against
American and Allegiant.
"Specifically, we will examine FAA's independent
reviews, complaints to the FAA hotline, and other sources to see whether
inspectors conducting routine surveillance of Allegiant and American Airlines
found similar discrepancies and determine whether FAA ensures that Allegiant
and American Airlines implement effective corrective actions to address the
root causes of maintenance problems," Hampton wrote.
An Allegiant spokeswoman said that the company welcomes the
audit. "It will show what we know to be true, that Allegiant operates at
the highest level of safety, in strict adherence with all FAA regulations and
guidelines," she wrote in an email.
In a statement, American said it flew more than 200 million passengers safely in 2017 on 2.2 million flights.
"American Airlines was shocked to learn of the Office of Inspector General’s review and we stand by our strong safety record. Our team is working to understand why we are part of its review," the company said. "We welcome all oversight from the federal agencies involved in ensuring the safety of the traveling public and are proud of our partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration."
The FAA also said it welcomes the inspection of
its oversight system.
"This system is designed to identify potential risks
before they become serious problems and ensure that corrective action is taken,"
the agency said in a statement. "The process is dynamic and requires that
the FAA, and the airlines we oversee, constantly strive for safety
Notably, FAA oversight of Southwest maintenance practices
isn't within the scope of the tightened audit. The U.S. airline industry had
its first fatality since 2009 last month when a Southwest passenger died after
an engine fan blade broke loose and broke the aircraft window.