FAA not policing correction of violations, GAO says Plane-repair stations faulted by inspectors


WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration routinely fails to determine whether violations that its inspectors uncover at aircraft repair stations are ever corrected, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Repair stations now do nearly half of the $6.5 billion in annual maintenance, repair and renovation work on airliners, and failures by repair stations have been cited in two ValuJet accidents and other incidents. But, according to the GAO report, the FAA fails to determine whether violations it discovers are corrected, because the agency does not keep the proper paperwork for adequate follow-up inquiries.

In theory, airlines that do not do their own work are supposed to monitor the shops they hire to do it. But since the May 1996 crash of a ValuJet DC-9 in the Everglades, the FAA has determined that it needs to pay more attention to the 2,500 shops in the United States doing work on commercial airliners.

The FAA also licenses 270 repair stations abroad that work on commercial aircraft registered in the United States.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who asked for the study, said in a telephone interview that "safety in the skies is directly related to quality aircraft maintenance on the ground." But, he said, the FAA "still doesn't get the message."

"The FAA has repeatedly told the Congress that deficiencies at repair stations would be promptly corrected, but the new evidence shows that the FAA still doesn't follow through," Wyden said.

The congressional auditors said they had examined the records of 172 cases in which the FAA had sent letters to domestic repair stations. In about a quarter of the cases, there was no response in the file from the repair stations. In three-quarters of the cases, there was no record of what the FAA thought of the stations' corrective actions, if any. And in some cases it was not possible to tell whether an inspection had been completed, the report said.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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