Outside editorial: FAA needs to straighten up and fly right on inspections

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The following editorial first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

A defensive Federal Aviation Administration assures travelers that flying today is safer than it's ever been, despite the agency's pattern of ignoring airline inspection problems and intimidating whistle-blowers.

True, there has been a merciful lack of major crashes in recent years. But it's cold comfort if you're boarding a haggard-looking 737 this morning.

The FAA needs a major attitude adjustment. Passengers need to know it's working to protect them, not the airlines.

Congressional hearings last week made it clear that at least some FAA officials have been quashing trouble reports rather than encouraging conscientious inspectors. It's only a matter of time before that kind of pattern leads to disaster.

Catch-up inspections by Southwest, United and other airlines are reassuring. The FAA says it has seen the light, but what's to keep it from putting blinders back on when Congress turns elsewhere?

Often, regulatory agencies hunker down when they're short of money. That may be part of the problem here. But before any talk of higher allocations, the FAA needs to recapture the trust of travelers and taxpayers alike.

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