The FAA lacks adequate safeguards to properly oversee and
respond to complaints about flight test programs that airlines are required to
conduct on aircraft that have undergone major repairs or maintenance, the
Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has determined.
As a result, the FAA has agreed to an OIG-recommended course
of action designed to resolve the problem, the agency said in a letter to the
OIG last month.
The finding came after the OIG for the Department of
Transportation investigated a complaint filed early last year by the Allied
Pilots Association (APA), which represents American pilots, alleging that
American was using unqualified pilots for the flight tests and had a culture of
suppressing safety complaints.
The FAA official in charge of overseeing the tests lacked
objectivity, the OIG said in an audit finding released Tuesday, due to the
personal relationships he had developed over the course of 28 years he had
spent working with American. For example, the inspector responded to the APA
complaint by requesting information from American that could be used to
discredit the pilots who made the complaint.
"While the [FAA] has a tool for assessing its
relationships with carriers, the tool did not account for these risk factors,"
the OIG said. "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."
That FAA inspector at issue, who is not named in the report,
was eventually reassigned, but not until four months after his supervisor had
raised concerns about the Irving, Texas-based inspector's lack of objectivity
with local and regional FAA office managers in March 2017.
The OIG issued seven recommended actions that the FAA should
take to address this issue and to prevent similar issues from occurring.
Included among them are recommendations that FAA conduct an independent review
of its oversight of American's flight operations and that the FAA develop a corrective
action plan to address shortcomings in the American flight test program.
Auditors also called on the FAA to develop stricter
protocols on FAA oversight requirements of flight test operations and better
tools for evaluating the objectivity of inspectors.
The FAA will finish implementing all OIG recommendations by
June 30, 2019, the agency said.