After 787 Debacle, FAA on the Hot Seat Again

Boeing wasn't the only organization to take a significant PR hit as a result of the 787's battery malfunctions and the resulting worldwide grounding of all 50 of the in-service planes.

The FAA had, after all, certified the aircraft, including the lithium-ion battery and related systems that failed.

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The FAA is on the hot seat again, with the release on May 1 of a report by the DOT's Office of Inspector General faulting the FAA's oversight of aircraft repair stations.

The FAA is responsible for ensuring that almost 4,800 repair stations, both within the U.S. and overseas, adhere to established FAA standards. As the report notes, the use of such contract maintenance providers is on the upswing among U.S. carriers as they seek to "cut maintenance costs and maximize profitability."

Among the findings:

We found that while FAA developed a risk assessment process to aid repair station inspectors in identifying areas of greatest concern, its oversight continues to emphasize completing mandatory inspections instead of targeting resources where they are needed based on risk. Less than half of its inspection elements are evaluated based on risk, and foreign repair stations are not inspected using a risk-based system. In addition, FAA's oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations lacks effective, standardized processes for identifying deficiencies and verifying that they have been addressed. As a result, we found numerous systemic discrepancies at the repair stations we visited during our review.

The "risk-based system" alluded to above refers to an inspection-and-repair process that puts the highest priority on assessing those aircraft components that are at highest risk of failure.

That's just common sense. There aren't enough hours in the day to scrutinize every rivet and gasket in a modern jet aircraft. So you focus on parts most likely to fail, with the most catastrophic outcomes.

If that's not being done, travelers might well wonder what is, and how that affects the safety and reliability of the aircraft they're flying.

They will find no reassurance in the Inspector General's report, which is unflinching in its conclusion: "FAA's oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations lacks the rigor needed to identify deficiencies and verify that they have been addressed."

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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