Southwest Airlines FAA Oversight Blowback

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Fallout from the recent Southwest Airlines maintenance oversight fiasco that led to the airline's temporary grounding of 40 aircraft has resurrected accusations that the FAA is getting too cozy with the airlines. The FAA is quick to point out that the aircraft it oversees help compose one of the safest aviation systems in the world. Critics contend that the airlines the FAA is meant to regulate are too often referred to by the agency as customers, indicating an inappropriate relationship maintained by the regulating agency. For Southwest, reports suggest that the FAA inspector assigned to the airline knew of but did not report the shortcomings that ultimately prompted the agency to levy a record $10.2 million fine against the airline, and later led the airline to ground scores of aircraft. It may be the contradictions inherent in that series of events that have now led congressional investigators to call on airline and FAA employees with knowledge of substandard oversight practices to contact them. But it's not that simple. Today, some airline maintenance is performed overseas without oversight of any full-time FAA certified mechanics.

And so, the Transportation Committee is expected to include discussion of those practices during hearings regarding Southwest's maintenance concerns on April 3. Congress may also address regulating the way inspectors are assigned to airlines -- paying closer attention to exactly how the relationship is fostered.