The Office of Special Counsel today wrote to the President and Congress to reveal that “safety inspectors at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have improperly approved aircraft for commercial operations without first reviewing critical safety information that in some cases would have prohibited their operation.”
That sounds pretty scary and this is going to get some coverage but it turns out that most of the issues didn’t actually involve safety issues. They included things like expired registrations. And the majority dealt with small charter aircraft.
In one example, some charter operators were allowed to fly with exit doors that weren’t easily accessible during an emergency, a violation of regulations, according to the Special Counsel.
The investigation stems from a whistleblower. The FAA is now “checking the records of more than 11,000 aircraft that may be out of compliance with safety rules or improperly registered.”
That’s not great. But it also isn’t surprising. While the FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization includes some of the best professionals in government they’re not the reason we have safe air travel.
Whatever lapses occurred we had (and continue to have) exceptionally safe air travel. And this underscores that the driver here is something other than government inspectors. There’s a tremendous safety culture at the airlines themselves. There’s a tremendous financial incentive to maintain safety. Insurers demand it. Partner airlines demand it.
And expired registrations shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. One of the President’s planes had a lapsed registration while he was running for office. Registration would have cost $5 but it fell through the cracks. And they solved the issue by having him sell the plane to himself.