In 2008, a safety 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.
Pretty alarming. Ultimately, the United States Office of Special Counsel became involved, taking 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.
It’s been three years, but the White House has done very little. So now the OSC has written the President again.
The OSC continues to be concerned about the improperly installed night vision goggle systems that plague the nation’s EMS helicopter fleet. But it is also concerned about a litany of other whistleblower complaints against the FAA that the OSC has received, investigated and substantiated. The complaints range from FAA personnel allowing Delta Airlines to perform improper maintenance to air traffic controllers sleeping on the job. The FAA is aware of the complaints, but has done little about them.
One senses a bit of frustration in the Special Counsel’s latest letter:
This transmittal is the final chapter in OSC’s formal oversight process. . .additional enforcement action rests with Congress or the White House. Given the recurring and serious nature of these concerns, I write with a strong recommendation that more rigorous oversight measures be put in place at DOT and FAA to ensure a higher standard for aviation safety.