Why doesn’t the FAA do a better job of promoting aviation safety?
1. The FAA’s Inherent Conflict of Interest. When the FAA was created, it was charged with both regulating aviation and promoting it. But most aviation regulations don’t promote aviation — they constrain it. The FAA’s inherent conflict of interest explains why the FAA so often ignores the NTSB’s aviation safety recommendations.
2. The Problem of the Captive Regulator. Putting aside the inherent conflict of interest, the FAA is simply too close to the industry it regulates to do an effective job. This problem is not unique to aviation. For example, the drug industry has tremendous influence over its regulating agency, the FDA. We saw that play out most recently last year, when we learned that a number of the FDA committee members who voted against requiring stronger warnings on a drug’s label had economic ties with the drug’s manufacturer. In California, we learned that the Public Utilities Commission was too cozy with the gas utility it was supposed to regulate. It let the utility slide again and again until September 2010 when a gas explosion in San Bruno killed 8 and damaged or destroyed more than 40 homes.
3. Bureaucratic Incompetence. Sometimes, it seems that bureaucratic incompetence is the simplest reason for the FAA’s failure to act in the face of a known ongoing hazard. What else explains the night vision goggle debacle?