Aviation Watchdog Investigating FAA Oversight of Southwest Airlines

Jun 21, 2018

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The US Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday it will be opening an investigation into the Federal Aviation Association’s safety oversight of Southwest Airlines in the wake of the carrier’s fatal incident on flight 1380.

Matthew E. Hampton, the DOT’s Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, announced the DOT’s plans for an audit of the FAA later in June because of several suspicions regarding its relationship with Southwest Airlines. These suspicions rise from the connection between the flight 1380 engine failure that resulted in one passenger’s death and the similarities in a 2016 Southwest Airlines engine incident.

Both incidents saw an engine explode followed by a cabin depressurization, forcing an emergency landing. The 2016 episode, however, did not result in any injuries or fatalities.

“It is unclear what actions the carrier took to manage the risk to prevent a future failure,” Hampton said in his letter.

While the engine failures are one impetus for the audit, inspectors will be reviewing several safety practices, including everything from the FAA’s oversight of how pilots set their flight controls to how the airline records the number of bags in the aircraft cargo hold.

“We have a very transparent and professional relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration,” Southwest told the Wall Street Journal. “Our absolute goal at Southwest is to meet or exceed every requirement of our Safety Management System, and we believe we are held accountable to that goal by the FAA.”

TPG reached out to Southwest for more information but did not hear back by time of publication.

The DOT wants to inspect the FAA’s oversight of the airline’s safety management system because in addition to the 2018 and 2016 engine incidents, Hampton said they received a hotline complaint on several operational issues, including alleged pilot training deficiencies. Two inside sources also told WSJ that the watchdog body will be investigating accusations that FAA officials were too cozy with managers at Southwest.

“We welcome the OIG’s examination of the FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines,” the FAA said in a statement Thursday morning. “The FAA’s oversight system is designed to identify potential risks before they become serious problems and ensure that corrective action is taken. The process is dynamic and requires that the FAA, and the airlines we oversee, constantly strive for safety improvements.”

Earlier this year, the DOT Inspector General announced a similar audit into the FAA’s handling of both Allegiant and American Airlines’ maintenance records.

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