Is the FAA just a marketing agency, intended to create the appearance of safety in air travel?
Recent revelations from the Congressional testimony relating to the Southwest Airlines maintenance debacle suggest that the Federal Aviation Agency is not conducting the safety regulation that we assumed.
In March of 2008 when FAA inspectors testified before Congress, they opened the curtain on a regulatory process that was more sound-bite than substance. The inspectors described an environment where mechanical safety was ignored; record-keeping was not demanded by regulators, and inspectors who attempted to fulfill their duties were chastened or even punished by pro-industry administrators. The hearings were scheduled after it was disclosed that for MONTHS Southwest flew airplanes with cracked and improperly inspected fuselage components. The inspection of these fuselage areas for cracks was instituted after a widely-publicised incident in which a stewardess was killed when the fuselage around her failed--pulling her out of the airplane and to her death.
The FAA had not audited Southwest for compliance with inspection requirements--known as airworthiness directives--since 1999. It was overdue on 21 inspections, some by as much as 8 years. In the meantime, when Southwest complained about efforts by FAA inspectors to achieve compliance, the throublesome inspectors were withdrawn or relocated by mid-level bureaucrats and the airline was allowed to continue flying out-of-compliance jets.