Back in May, it was revealed that the FAA had missed numerous safety inspections for several airlines, including Southwest, American, and United. On July 22, the House of Representatives approved legislation that represents a step toward ensuring the FAA never lets this happen again.
The legislation has several major reforms: Requiring supervisory inspectors to rotate from one airline to another every five years, installing an independent group to investigate safety claims brought up by FAA staff, ending the practice of airlines choosing their own inspectors, and instituting a two-year "cooling off" period before an FAA inspector can go to work directly for an airline.
Just for a quick refresher, this issue burst on the scene in March, when Southwest grounded 38 planes following maintenance lapses for which the airline was fined over $10 million. A wave of industrywide cancellations followed, notably at American and Delta, as airlines and the FAA scrambled to catch up on other inspections that may have been missed.
Through it all, the FAA has been reluctant to make changes to its policy, a stance that has frustrated lawmakers and the public alike. Following the Southwest episode, FAA inspectors admitted the agency more or less ignored the situation. Upon approving the new rules, Public Works and Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar told the AP, "We don't trust the FAA to do this on their own."
A bill like this has been a long time coming, as the FAA has, by all accounts, operated a bit loosely in recent years. The provisions outlined in the legislation should be good for consumers, and hopefully continued government oversight and pressure will ensure the FAA raises its standards and keeps them high.