04.22.18

SCHUMER REVEALS: CRITICAL FAA OVERSIGHT ON AVIATION MAINTENANCE INTENDED TO KEEP FLIERS & SKIES SAFE HAS BEEN LACKING FOR YEARS; NEW DATA SHOWS PRECIPITOUS DROP IN FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY & AIRLINE CULTURE OF SAFETY; SENATOR DEMANDS IMMEDIATE SURGE IN MAINTENANCE CHECKS ON ALL AIRLINES; FAA MUST BE AGGRESSIVE & MORE PROACTIVE IN PREVENTING TRAGEDY

On Heels Of Southwest Tragedy & Amidst Safety Concerns Raised by ‘60 Minutes’ Report on Allegiant Airlines, Special Schumer Report Sifts Through Slew Of Fed Data To Show That Number Of FAA Enforcement Actions On Airline Maintenance Have Been Falling For Years & Fines Collected In Hopes Of Improving Safety Have Also Dropped 

Since 2014 Alone, FAA Enforcement On Airline Maintenance & Fines Plunged By Shocking 70%; Senator Says Demand For Industry-Wide Culture Of Safety Must Come From FAA & Demands Immediate Action    

Schumer: It Is Revealed That The FAA Is In A Nose-Dive On Safety That Just Cannot Fly

On the heels of the Southwest Airline tragedy that took the life of a passenger, the recent East River helicopter crash, and a 60 Minutes report detailing lax safety issues with Allegiant Airlines, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is unveiling his own report on airline safety and revealing that for years now, critical Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of aviation maintenance--- intended to keep passengers, the airline industry and the skies above safe--- has been seriously lacking. Schumer’s office sifted through four consecutive years of FAA data, separating the agency’s enforcement actions on airline maintenance to find that since at least 2014, there has been a steady decline in enforcement across-the-board. Schumer, today, said that this data and steady enforcement decline raises both serious concerns and questions about whether or not the FAA is actively meeting its enforcement and oversight mandates. Schumer announced today he has released his full report on the numbers and is demanding a surge in FAA safety checks across all airlines. Schumer is also demanding that the FAA take a more proactive role in ensuring the safety of our skies, as opposed to after mishaps and tragedies strike.

“Since at least 2014, it would appear the FAA has been in a nose-dive on safety and that simply cannot fly,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “We know flying in America is extremely safe, and much of the safety and security we feel in the skies is because of the federal government leading the charge and demanding safety be priority number one. But, there are also times when that culture of safety the FAA has championed comes into question, and that is where we are today, asking hard questions spurred by data and a number of recent incidents and reports. The data I am releasing today shows a precipitous drop in maintenance enforcement actions by the FAA. These are the enforcement actions intended to keep the skies safe and uncover problems with engines or other airplane parts that could result in tragic mishaps in the skies. So, today, we are talking about the kinds of the things are at the core of what the FAA is charged with.”

Schumer’s report shows that in 2014, the FAA filed formal enforcement actions related to airplane maintenance 105 times. In 2015, according to the same Schumer-secured FAA data, the number of FAA enforcement actions related to maintenance issues on airlines numbered at 75 actions. In 2016, the number numbered at 70 maintenance enforcement actions and in 2017, the number of FAA enforcements related to maintenance issues numbered at 28 times, a roughly 70% decline from 2014. Moreover, according to similar FAA data, fines the agency collects in light of maintenance problems that require fines by airlines also dropped roughly 70% from about $26 million in 2014 to just about $8 million in 2017.

Schumer compiled 2014-2017 data from FAA Civil Penalty Enforcement quarterly reports and specifically mined enforcement actions related to direct airline maintenance. The full data is available upon request and also broken down in a bar graph appearing below:

     Number of FAA Enforcement Actions on Maintenance                          

“I am handing the FAA their own data on the heels of the tragic Southwest flight that left LGA, the recent Hudson River helicopter crash, and concerns with Allegiant Airlines and I am demanding answers and more inspections across-the-board to ensure we are holding the federal government and the aviation industry accountable on preserving the critical culture of safety standards that have made aviation in this country so safe. We owe it to the public to maintain critical oversight on aviation safety and we owe it to travelers to uncover and solve any airplane or helicopter maintenance problems before they result in unintended or largescale tragedy,” Schumer added.

Schumer said the FAA must pour over his compiled data and report back as to why airline maintenance enforcement continues to fall, especially given the public problems with Southwest and Allegiant Airlines. Schumer’s report was, in fact, spurred by the April 17th Southwest tragedy that occurred when Flight 1380 just departed from New York City to Dallas, resulting in engine failure that produced shrapnel large enough to puncture one of the passenger windows of the jetliner. The incident took the life of a single passenger and it appears a critical airliner maintenance issue was to blame. In addition, a recent 60 Minutes report detailing a myriad of safety concerns with low-cost carrier, Allegiant Airlines, also spurred Schumer to dig deeper into FAA data on safety enforcement actions. Finally, the recent East River helicopter crash demonstrated clearly that far too often the FAA is waiting until after unsafe situation occurs to make changes, rather than taking proactive aggressive action.

Based on the data, Schumer, today, made the case for an immediate surge in FAA maintenance checks on all airlines and said the agency must be aggressive and proactive in their efforts to prevent tragedy. Schumer explained, while it will take time to glean final answers on both the Southwest tragedy and the issues faced by Allegiant Airlines, there are things the federal government can and must do, right now, to make the skies safer for both planes and people.

“The bottom line is that we need to let FAA inspections on airplane maintenance clear the runway and we need to release the data we collect so the public and safety experts are well aware of any airlines potentially skimping on public and aviation safety,” Schumer concluded.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FAA appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Elwell

I write today on the heels of a number of recent aviation safety issues that have raised serious questions about the role the FAA is playing in ensuring the safety of our skies. Notably, a recent ’60 Minutes’ report on the culture of safety at Allegiant Airlines demonstrated quite clearly that more oversight from the FAA is needed to ensure that airlines are meeting their basic maintenance obligations and promoting an internal culture that prioritizes safety. In addition, the recent helicopter crash in the Hudson River placed a bright light on the fact that far too frequently the FAA was responding to incidents after a tragedy occurred, rather than taking proactive measures to recognize and address safety issues before an accident happens.

While it is certainly true that America’s skies are some of the safest in the world, and by-and-large our aviation stakeholders do an exceptional job promoting safety, the recent Southwest accident and the East River helicopter crash make it tragically clear that all it takes is one issue to slip through the cracks for disaster to strike. Therefore, it’s paramount that the FAA be aggressive, proactive, and comprehensive in its role as the key oversight and enforcement agency for our aviation system. I am significantly concerned that based on data included in the FAA’s Civil Penalty Enforcement quarterly reports it appears as though there has been a meaningful drop in enforcement actions over the last four years. While I appreciate that in 2015 the FAA shifted to a ‘Compliance Action’ oversight approach, rather than an enforcement one, and I understand that the goal of that shift was to create a more open dialogue with the aviation industry, such a shift cannot go so far as to lose sight of the critical importance of tough but fair enforcement action, when warranted. I strongly support efforts by the FAA to create productive and open dialogues with the entities you are tasked with regulating, but it’s also critical that those entities understand that when appropriate and warranted you will take tough action.

The ’60 Minutes’ report, the Southwest accident, and the East River helicopter crash were followed by swift actions from the FAA and the Department of Transportation. In the case of the helicopter crash, those actions included prohibiting the harness system and doors-off flights that were clearly a contributing factor in the tragedy, and in the more recent Southwest incident those actions included emergency engine inspections. Those were important actions, and I applaud you for taking those steps. However, in both situations those actions could have been taken prior to either accident occurring, and it’s the lack of proactive action to ensure the safety of our skies that has me so concerned. As a result, I strongly urge you to dramatically increase inspections, and where appropriate take stronger enforcement action to ensure that problems and unsafe situations are addressed prior to a tragedy occurring.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, should you need more information please do not hesitate to contact my office,

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer

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