WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has had an inadequate system of inspecting the nation's airlines for safety problems and of making sure that violations are corrected, a congressional report says.
Some FAA employees have even found themselves under pressure from the airline industry to spend less time making inspections and more time certifying new airlines and operating changes at existing carriers, the report said.
The "review . . . found that the inspection program often did not identify major safety problems or assure their correction through appropriate follow-up," said the General Accounting Office, the congressional agency that conducted the study.
Tony Broderick, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation standards, said Thursday that the agency has made numerous improvements in its inspection program in recent years.
Inspections, he said, are "markedly improved over what it was when GAO finished its study and improving every day."
The report, based on investigations between August, 1985, and January, 1986, said that the FAA still needs to make changes, such as making better decisions about which airlines to inspect.
The report, dated May 19 but obtained Thursday, noted that the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry has led to a mushrooming of activity. There were 250 scheduled airlines operating 3,640 aircraft in 1978 and 325 carriers flying 4,470 planes in 1985, it said.
But the agency did not respond by hiring enough additional inspectors, the report said. Instead, because of budgetary pressures, the number of inspectors dropped from 1,748 in 1981 to 1,494 in 1983, the study said. The numbers have been growing recently, and the FAA had 1,782 inspectors at the end of last April.
'Requires Greater Vigilance'
The FAA "did not fully recognize that a fiercely competitive, deregulated environment highlights aircraft maintenance and other safety-related activities as controllable expenses that directly affect an airline's financial health," the GAO said, and that "such a climate requires greater oversight vigilance. . . . "
The FAA has also not done a satisfactory job of ensuring that its inspectors spend their time at top priority tasks, the report said. Since 1977, the FAA has ranked accident investigations and inspections of existing airlines as its top priorities, ahead of certifying new airlines and approving route changes.
But the GAO found that at five district FAA offices, inspectors spent about 80% of their time in 1985 conducting certification and other jobs unrelated to inspections.