The FAA is supposed to use its regulatory powers to promote aviation safety. Over the years, however, it seems to have become too bureaucratic and conflicted to take decisive action when it counts most. Examples:
- In April, the NTSB asked the FAA to immediately ground the fleet of Zodiac aircraft because the aircraft’s wings tend to fall off. So far, ten people have died in Zodiac accidents. The FAA’s response: "let’s wait and see."
- In 2006, the NTSB asked the FAA to take simple steps to improve EMS Helicopter safety in the face of a horrible EMS helicopter safety record. The FAA has yet to act.
- In 1996, the NTSB first recomended that the FAA act to reduce risks of commuter aircraft flying in icing conditions. More than a decade later, the NTSB is still waiting for the FAA’s response.
Now, there’s more. In 2008, an FAA inspector determined that nearly half of the nation’s EMS helicopter fleet–about 300 aircraft–have improperly installed night vision systems. As installed, the systems are a hazard to the air ambulance crews and the patients they carry. The inspector felt the aircraft should be grounded until they were fixed. The FAA initially agreed, but then changed its mind. Apparently, the FAA decided to look the other way because of the "negative publicity" a grounding would generate.
Huh? Since when should the FAA be concerned more with negative publicity than with safety?
Recently, the United States Office of Special Counsel became involved. Special Counsel, however, has been unable to get the FAA to respond to its inquiries. So it has taken the unusual step of writing to President Obama.
[The United States Office of Special Counsel] found a substantial likelihood that FAA officials and employees engaged in violation of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority, all of which contributed to a substantial and specific danger to public safety.
The Office of Special Counsel appears more interested in EMS Helicopter safety than does the FAA. We’ll see what happens next.