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FAA Renames Relationship with Airlines to Calm Safety Worries

September 24, 2009 — Last years’ revelations about cozy relationships between airworthiness inspectors and the airlines they were charged to oversee have spurred the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to announce new initiatives to address public concern.  The FAA says it wants to be more responsive to public safety complaints and contributions by whistleblowers, and it’s even changing long-used nomenclature to emphasize their commitment.  The Consistency and Standardization Initiative (CSI) formerly the “Customer Service Initiative” (when it was formed in 2004) gives people affected by agency decisions a more responsive review process according to FAA spokesman Les Dorr, Jr. “It gives airmen, or any organization - be it commercial or [general aviation] - a process by which they can appeal FAA decisions made at the local level,” Dorr said.

In announcing the change, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt outlined other ongoing actions to ensure that air carriers comply with safety directives while minimizing disruptions to passengers.  “These changes make it clear that the FAA’s number-one customer is the public…we value the safety information we receive from our employees, the public and industry, and these actions reinforce that,” Babbitt said.

Besides dropping the reference to airlines as “customers” the agency plans to improve communications and treatment of employees, create a separate office to handle complaints, strengthen the airworthiness directive (AD) procedures for the airlines, and improve the clarity and interpretation of ADs.  “There was not enough consistency in the interpretation of  FAA rules and regulations and things such as airworthiness directives…[the name change] was to address that perception rather than any real change in the process, cause the process has always been there,” Dorr said.

In March of 2008 it was revealed through whistleblowers that Southwest Airlines missed inspections to check for cracks on their fleet of 737s.  Poor oversight by the FAA was also cited as a cause of the inspection lapse and an industry-wide audit of maintenance records ensued.  Both Southwest and American Airlines had to cancel numerous flights to re-inspect portions of their fleet. 

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