FAA whistleblowers are going to be the stars of the show at tomorrow's marathon House transportation committee hearing (pdf) on the cozy relationship between the FAA and major airlines.
Here is the hearing's first panel:
Mr. Charalambe ("Bobby") Boutris
Aviation Safety Inspector and Boeing 737-700 Partial Program Manager for aircraft maintenance Southwest Airlines (SWA) Certificate Management Office (CMO)
Mr. Douglas E. Peters
Aviation Safety Inspector and Boeing 757 Partial Program Manager American Airlines Certification Unit, AMR CMO
Mr, Michael C. Mills
Assistant Manager, Dallas Fort Worth Flight Standards District Office (FSDO)
Mr. Paul E. Cotti
Supervisor, American Eagle Airworthiness Unit, AMR CMO
Mr. Robert A. Naccache
Ret, Assistant Manager, SWA CMO
Mr. Terry D. Lambert
Manager, Safety and Analysis Group, Flight Standards Division, FAA Southwest Region
Government officials have blocked enforcement of safety rules at major airlines for years because they have a cozy relationship with the companies, according to the testimony of U.S. inspectors who will appear before Congress Thursday.
The testimony alleges for the first time that inspectors have been pressured by Federal Aviation Administration officials to change findings or to soft-pedal enforcement actions for several of the nation's largest airlines, including Northwest, United and Continental. The controversy over the FAA's oversight has so far involved only Southwest Airlines.
The inspectors claim FAA officials were often more concerned with airline profit margins than safety and made them work under the specter of intimidation, according to the testimony, provided to USA TODAY.
Thursday's hearing before the House Transportation Committee was prompted by two whistle-blowers who charged that their bosses at the FAA had prevented them from enforcing serious safety matters at Southwest a year ago. The FAA issued a $10.2 million fine against Southwest last month for intentionally flying jets that had not received critical inspections and acknowledged that its inspectors had not acted properly. [emphasis added]
In other aviation safety oversight news, in Washington state, jurors continue to deliberate the fate of former Boeing quality assurance inspector Gerald Eastman. Eastman, after raising concerns about the safety risks of what he felt were lax inspections of planes, went to the press with internal Boeing information. Eastman's actions were discovered by Boeing investigators and is being prosecuted for stealing Boeing proprietary information. He states his motive was simply to bring to light safety concerns of public interest which were not being addressed. Given the recent Transportation Department Inspector General report which verifies that there are problems with Boeing and other major aerospace manufacturers' quality assurance systems, it might be worthwhile for the House transportation committee to take a look at Eastman's case and others as a possible subject matter for a future hearing.
-- Nick Schwellenbach