The Federal Aviation Administration’s recent paroxysm of safety concern– forcing airlines to immediately cancel thousands of MD-80 flights because of a 1/4 inch deviation in the location of an electrical bundle in the wheel well — reveals at least two “inconvenient truths”: (1) despite it repeated use of the safety rationale to justify repeated violations of Congressional mandates such as compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et. seq., and the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401 et.seq., the FAA has long been neglecting its primary responsibility of ensuring the safety of airline travel; and (2) FAA is willing to sacrifice the welfare and convenience of air travelers and even the sacrosanct protection of Interstate Commerce ensured by the Bill of Rights to cover up its own past non-feasance.
Whenever FAA wants to approve an airport development project, or, more recently, an airspace redesign, despite those projects patent potential for creating significant environmental impacts, FAA falls back on the time worn mantra of its safety mandate. This is happening even now in the FAA’s sponsorship of a relocation of Runway 24R, the northern most runway at Los Angeles International Airport, much closer to surrounding communities, with concomitantly increased adverse noise and air quality impacts, and even though other reasonable and patently safe alternatives exist.
Despite the FAA’s lip service to safety, FAA has apparently been giving short shrift to it in practice. Even though its directive requiring inspection of MD-80s’ purported wiring problem was issued in 2006, FAA did nothing to ensure compliance until last week, when 2 FAA safety inspectors/whistle blowers revealed FAA’s cavalier attitude toward safety to a Congressional committee.
Overnight, FAA changed its stripes. Instead of allowing aircraft to be inspected in groups, over time, FAA required that they be instantly taken off-line for inspection; and if so much as a 1/4 inch deviation was found, taken off-line immediately for repair. Sounds good, except that hundreds of thousands of paying passengers have been delayed and displaced, through no fault of their own and at great cost to them in terms of time and money expended for overnight accommodations, food, and even additional costs of seats on other airlines, victims of the FAA’s new-found sense of responsibility.
In short, if those aircraft were dangerous, the FAA knew it, and the planes should have been taken out of service two years ago when FAA first found out about the problem. If the planes are not dangerous, a reasoned, gradual approach to inspection and repair would have been appropriate. Instead of those rational alternatives, FAA chose a path that does not remedy its nonfeasance, but, rather, calls it to the attention of the public, and , hopefully to their Congressional overseers.
Please be sure to tell your Congressman and the Committee Chairs how you feel. The Chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (email@example.com) and the Chair of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security is Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (firstname.lastname@example.org). On the House side, Rep. James L. Oberstar (email@example.com) is the Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Jerry F. Costello (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee.