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Airlines: Bedding with the FAA
by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
American Airlines grounded 325 aircraft on Wednesday, stranding passengers across the country because of a safety inspection lapse. The problem was revealed by a new audit program imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
We'd like to think that this demonstrates the FAA now is on the ball when it comes to airliner safety, but there is reason to doubt it.
The doubt arises mainly from troubling news about Southwest Airlines and evidence suggesting that some FAA personnel may have become entirely too close to the airlines that agency inspectors are supposed to oversee.
Last year, 46 Southwest jets made some 60,000 flights before the airline noticed that the planes were 30 months overdue for safety inspections of their fuselages. Southwest reported the mistake to the FAA.
However, Southwest allowed the planes to keep flying for eight days and make 1,400 flights after it discovered the problem. Federal rules say the planes should have been grounded.
The Dallas Morning News quoted government reports saying that six Boeing 737s were found to have a cracks in the fuselage, one of them three inches long. That's a serious concern; failure of a pressurized hull at high altitudes could have catastrophic consequences. Earlier this month, the FAA proposed a $10.2 million fine on Southwest for the incident.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee found that another 70 Southwest planes flew without required rudder inspections for at least a year. Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., said he found "strong evidence of systemic flaws" in Southwest's safety program.
There are more worrisome reports coming from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates complaints of retribution against whistle-blowers inside the government. FAA safety inspector Charalambe Boutris tried to initiate an investigation after he learned last year that Southwest had flown the uninspected planes. In response, Southwest allegedly tried to get the inspector removed from his job. Boutris' boss refused, but told the inspector not to report his discovery to FAA higher-ups until he "gave the green light."
Boutris and another inspector, Douglas Peters, took their complaints to the Office of Special Counsel, which informed the Secretary of Transportation in December.
All of this raises concerns that some officials at the FAA have lost perspective on the proper relationship between the agency and the airlines. The FAA has what it calls a "partnership" program in which it relies on airlines themselves to do most inspections and report their own errors. Some of that is inevitable; the FAA's 3,000 inspectors could not possibly do all the checks on their own.
But the House committee staff found that some FAA inspectors feel pressured from their bosses to go easy on all airlines, not just Southwest. Inspectors said FAA officials are "too close to airline management" and that exposing problems would threaten their careers.
The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists Union, which represents FAA inspectors, complains of "cozy" relations between FAA management and the airlines. The FAA is becoming "the protector of the airline, rather than the flying public," says the union.
After the Southwest incident came to light, the FAA this month announced an audit of inspection practices at all major airlines. That audit caught the error at American, which hadn't properly checked wire bundles on its MD-80 airliners. As it turned out, bundles on 80 of the planes needed to be modified.
This whole sorry story ought to concern air travelers.
Safety inspections are serious business. They cannot be allowed to become haphazard, and that becomes more likely if the FAA cuddles up with airline management. Let's hope the FAA leadership now is awake to the problem. If not, the agency may need a house cleaning, starting with the executive suite
Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – CNS.
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- Law Office of John J. Tormey III, Esq.
John J. Tormey III, PLLC
217 East 86th Street, PMB 221
New York, NY 10028 USA
(212) 410-4142 (phone)
(212) 410-2380 (fax)
John J. Tormey III, Esq.
P.O. Box 918
Pearl River, NY 10965 USA
(845) 735-9691 (phone)
Sunday, March 23, 2008
To: NATIONS OF THE WORLD – GOVERNMENTS, EMBASSIES, AND PRESS
(Please See The Distribution List Below).
DEFECTIVE AIRPLANES AND PARTS POTENTIALLY ABOUT TO FLOOD THE MARKET
Dear Your Excellencies, And Other Honorable World Citizens:
I am a lawyer in New York, an American citizen, and a man who greatly values the sanctity of human life.
Airline companies within the United States may be about to seek to “dump” defective aircraft upon, and/or sell harmful cannibalized aircraft parts to, businesses and citizens within your respective many countries. The sellers of these harmful used airplanes and materials may approach prospective buyers directly, or they may instead make their predatory approach through intermediary “shell” companies and transactions.
To the extent that you may not already be aware of the current aviation safety crisis occurring now in America that has caused this clear-and-present threat, please inform your countrymen and countrywomen of this potentially-imminent and hazardous occurrence. Please ask your country’s officials, private firms, and citizens, to be vigilantly on the look-out for offers to buy these defective airplanes or parts. It is important you ensure that your friends and neighbors do not buy these items. The safety and lives of your fellow citizens may depend upon it.
I further request that you please advise your governmental aviation authorities in your respective countries, some but not all of whom are copied on this letter, that planes owned or maintained by U.S. airline companies which fly in and/or fly out of your countries and your home airports, should be carefully examined by your own aviation authorities and immediately, to ascertain that these aircraft do not pose any threat to passengers in the air or people on the ground within your country. The fleets of a number of United States commercial airlines are deteriorating. Our federal government in the U.S. has finally caught up to the decay. We in America are now effectively in the painful process of outlawing these aged, dangerous planes – and holding civilly and criminally accountable those malicious individuals that would continue to sanction their use, regardless. This threat to us is from within. The airline companies’ next move will be to try to jettison the bad planes for profit.
The aero sell-off period is about to begin - if it hasn’t begun already, that is. The mercantilists who own or control these un-airworthy airplanes will now undoubtedly be looking to “off-load” them in the coming weeks, perhaps to you. The sellers will endeavor to recoup against the obsolescence and “new-found” non-compliance of the planes with newly-re-enforced U.S. aviation safety laws and standards. The aero-buyer market is likely about to be flooded by aircraft which are neither safe nor flight-worthy. The facts I am relaying to you herein are public record.
In 1998, Aloha Airlines Flight 243, a Boeing 737, suffered an explosive decompression killing a flight attendant and injuring sixty-five (65) people. The fuselage was ripped apart during flight. The cause of the disaster was determined to be cracks in the fuselage.
In 2000, a Boeing 737 crashed into the side of a mountain in the Philippines and killed all one hundred thirty-one (131) passengers on board. Built in 1978, the aircraft had been previously operated by Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines for twenty (20) years. Illinois-based AAR Corp. bought the plane in 1998. According to the above-cited Forbes article, lawyers indicated the plane had cracks in it when leased and delivered thereafter to Air Philippines. Yet the U.S. federal agency charged by law with the responsibility of regulating aviation in the United States, the failed United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), issued an “airworthiness certificate” in 1999, judging the plane sound enough to export into the Philippines. After the horrific crash, the plane pieces were buried in concrete, preventing further examination. AAR Corp. continues to lease airplanes to British Airways, UAL Corp., and Continental Airlines.
It is now year 2008. There has been a breakdown in oversight over aviation safety and maintenance in the United States. Airline companies continue to profit at the expense of the health and safety of American citizens and other world citizens. “Missed” structural checks and inspections, repeatedly violating our country’s federal laws, are but the product of corporate greed to make more money. The FAA and airline companies hire publicists and effectively sneer at us. We American citizens, the heart and soul of this country, are now fighting back.
Under U.S. federal investigation, within the last several days, Southwest Airlines grounded at least thirty-eight (38) of its planes - almost one-tenth (1/10th) of its jet fleet - prompting at least one hundred twenty-six (126) flight cancellations. Fuselage cracks were found in no less than six (6) of these Southwest Airlines 737s. Passengers could have died flying these cracked airplanes. The arrogant first Southwest and FAA response was the unapologetic Tombstone-Mentality denial of accountability decried by Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Previously on March 8, 2008, Representative Oberstar excoriated Southwest Airlines, the FAA and other aero-concerns in a press conference indicating preliminary results of a Congressional investigation he has led. Congressman Oberstar, an aviation expert with over two decades of experience, observed that because of a “cozy relationship” between FAA and airline companies in the U.S., the FAA has almost wholly abdicated its regulatory function over aviation which FAA used to perform; dangerous flights of un-inspected U.S.-based planes have been occurring everyday; and at least hundreds of thousands of passengers and others have been put at risk over the past several years. Oberstar opined that the Southwest Airlines/FAA debacle comprised the worst aviation safety problem he ever saw.
Seeking political cover, FAA then pretended to be an objective regulator for a day and “fined” Southwest Airlines a record US$10,200,000, the largest such reported fine in history. However, the full dollar amount of the fine will likely never be paid by Southwest, and the FAA has already indicated to Southwest Airlines that the “fine” is negotiable. The FAA’s “demand” letter to Southwest citing the “fine”, says as much.
A few days ago, Aloha Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection, while blaming its misfortune on alleged under-pricings by a competitor.
Two days ago, United Airlines grounded seven (7) of its planes out of safety concerns.
USA Today now reports that Delta Airlines will dump 35-45 jets, reducing its flying capacity 10%; United Airlines will remove 10-15 jets from service; JetBlue will off-load 10 of its fleet; and US Airways will also fly fewer planes than previously announced. The sell-off period has begun. It is likely that the world market is about to become flooded with defective dangerous aircraft and airplane parts. Given the pecuniary greed that many of the subject airline companies regularly demonstrate, there is no reason to think that they will destroy these harmful craft and items. Moreover, given the utter failure of the FAA to regulate safety, there is no reason to think FAA’s “airworthiness certificates” mean anything. FAA’s paper and assurances are worthless. FAA’s word means nothing. FAA has lied to me, an American citizen, and my community, for the past year, straight. It would be uncharacteristic of FAA to tell any of you anything resembling the truth, either.
In the midst of an unspeakable and unacceptable number of near-misses between flying aircraft in the U.S., a rightfully-disgruntled and FAA-underappreciated work-force of air traffic controllers, and the continual and concerted efforts of FAA and even NASA to conceal safety data and other information from the American people and therefore the world - the United States is suffering an internal aviation safety crisis. The crisis is rooted in the failure of the FAA, and the failure of its ersatz leader Acting FAA Administrator Robert A. “Bobby” Sturgell, to responsibly handle aviation safety issues. “Bobby” Sturgell and the FAA which he currently heads, continually put profits over people and their lives and safety. These bureaucrats are seeking to set up golden-parachute jobs in the civil sector, in the event that the political party in charge of the Executive Branch of U.S. Government changes in November 2008. The number of abuses of aviation safety measures is therefore at an all-time historic high, for this reason, and because “Bobby” Sturgell is incompetent.
“‘Bobby’ Sturgell’s FAA and in some cases certain airline companies are currently under investigation by a number of other United States federal bodies, including the United States Congress; the United States Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee; the United States House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress; the United States Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office (IG); and even a criminal probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Included in the investigated matters are threats and retaliation made against aviation safety inspector whistleblowers:
Also under federal investigation are false safety documents federally-filed by Southwest Airlines certifying that cracked planes had been taken out of service when in fact they had not; failures to inspect and monitor aircraft for critical safety defects such as cracks in planes and failed rudder-control systems; and in one instance, and aircraft engineer getting sucked into an engine to his death.
Two United States Senators named Lautenberg and Menendez, with the help of many others, have put a “Hold” on the FAA-sought Congressional confirmation of “Bobby” Sturgell’s nomination as 5-year FAA Administrator. In doing so, these brave Senators have saved human lives. “Bobby” Sturgell has incurred the wrath not only of Congress and environmental and consumer groups and communities in the United States, but his FAA has even angered organized labor in the form of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in response to FAA’s earlier proposed outsourcing of aircraft maintenance:
Shortly after the Teamsters’ press release, Southwest Airlines reversed its previously-stated intention to outsource certain aircraft repair.
The Congressional and multiple other federal investigations of “Bobby” Sturgell’s FAA and the American aviation safety crisis will continue. On April 3, 2008 there will be a further hearing in the District of Columbia before the United States House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This hearing may be web-cast, and I ask that in any event you please consider tuning in to it. The April 3 hearing bears not only upon the safety of American citizens, but upon all world citizens, which is why this letter has issued to you. In the meantime, Quiet Rockland, a New York community group which I co-founded last Summer, will continue to press and petition for the permanent lawful removal of “Bobby” Sturgell as FAA Administrator, and a true and immediate changing of the guard at FAA.
Please understand that the overwhelming majority of American citizens are good, decent, hard-working, and caring people – and that the current federal authority in the U.S. governing aviation is not at all representative of the American people, or our will. We will marginalize “Bobby” Sturgell and the FAA and prove that they are out-of-step with the intelligence and compassion of the rest of humanity. Every day, more and more American citizens are crying out to revamp and overhaul the FAA, “top-to-bottom”, in the words of Representative Oberstar – and the “top” means the removal of “Bobby” Sturgell. In no way do we intend to wait until the national election in November 2008 for that needed aviation safety overhaul to happen. Reliable aviation safety in which the world’s citizens can be confident, must be restored NOW. Strict liability. Zero tolerance.
The bottom line, and I say this to not only the Philippine authorities but also to the FAA and all U.S.-based airline companies, is that the defective unsafe airplanes and all of their component parts should absolutely be “buried in concrete”- but BEFORE passengers die flying them, not AFTER passengers die flying them.
I wish you all safe travels. Please help make this a safer and better world. Please send a friend my letter.
John J. Tormey III, Esq.
Pearl River, Rockland County, New York
United States of America
(Posted on March 29, 2008, 3:56 pm John J. Tormey III, Esq.)