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New rule to improve FAA ‘safety culture’New rule to improve FAA ‘safety culture’

The FAA has enacted a conflict-of-interest rule prohibiting air carriers and some general aviation operators from employing as representatives aviation safety inspectors with oversight roles over their operations for two years after the inspectors leave the agency.

The rule, proposed in 2009, was the FAA’s response to concerns about “an overly close relationship” that had developed between Southwest Airlines and inspectors overseeing airline operations, the FAA said in a news release Aug. 19.

“The flying public can rest assured that our aviation safety inspectors will remain focused on protecting the flying public without any conflicts of interest,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Effective Oct. 21, operators affected by the rule will be prohibited from employing or contracting with former FAA employees who directly served in or oversaw inspection of the employer’s operations. The restrictions apply to operations under parts 121, 125, 133, 135, 137, 141, 142, 145, 147, and subpart K of part 91. General aviation operators providing on-demand charters under Part 135, flight training under Part 141, or participating in fractional ownership or its management under subpart K of Part 91 would be included. Other Part 91 operators would be excluded.

FAA Administrator or Randy Babbitt said that the rule would “improve our safety culture here at the FAA and throughout the aviation industry.”

In 2008 the FAA proposed a $10.2 million civil penalty against Southwest for operating 46 airplanes on approximately 60,000 flights without inspecting fuselages for fatigue cracks in accordance with an airworthiness directive, according to the final rule published Aug. 20.

A report by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General report “concluded that the FAA Certificate Management Office (CMO) overseeing the airline that failed to perform the required inspections had developed an overly collaborative relationship with the airline.” The report recommended that the FAA issue “post-employment guidance” prohibiting carriers from hiring former inspectors who had overseen the carrier’s operations.

The FAA said aviation safety could be compromised if a former inspector were able to exert “undue influence on current FAA employees with whom he or she had established close working relationships” during his or her time at the agency.

In an effort to quantify the rule’s potential workforce impact, the FAA studied the fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009, and estimated that of 163 inspectors who left the agency during the period, 125 would have been affected by the rule.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.

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