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An inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration ignored safety complaints after developing a cozy relationship with American Airlines managers, a recently surfaced government watchdog report says.

The US Department of Transportation Inspector General says the FAA inspector, assigned to American for 28 years, failed to act on legitimate complaints on how the carrier assessed the safety of its aircraft after they had undergone maintenance. The federal inspector had also gone on an overseas trip with a manager from the airline, the report found.

Federal regulations require airlines to test planes’ airworthiness after significant repairs or other maintenance work, otherwise known as a flight test program. Safety issues were raised to the FAA against American’s flight test program, including “the use of unqualified pilots,” the report says.

The DOT watchdog group found the FAA’s oversight of American Airlines “lacked objectivity.”

The safety complaints against American were raised by the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents the airline’s pilots, and went unaddressed for more than a year and a half. After the DOT Inspector General raised concerns about compliance, the FAA opened an audit of American’s flight test program in the fall of 2017. That audit found that the program was not following the airline’s written manuals, which violates regulations. As a result, the FAA reassigned the inspector.

The FAA inspector was not named in the report and has since retired from the institution.

TPG reached out to the FAA for more information, and we were referred to the agency’s response included in the DOT’s report. “The FAA has initiated several safety enhancements to the American Airlines Flight Test Operations Program,” the FAA says in its response. “New initiatives include the establishment of a Safety Analysis Team comprised of all relevant stakeholders, and the development of a new Risk Management Process.”

The FAA also says that it will begin implementing the watchdog’s recommendations by October 2018, and it expects all of the DOT’s recommendations to be fully implemented by June 2019.

“American welcomes the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report of FAA oversight into American’s Flight Test program a maintenance ferry flight and aircraft evaluation program,” the airline said in a statement emailed to TPG. “While these flights do not carry passengers, the safety of our crew members is paramount.”

“Last fall, we placed the Flight Test group under new leadership and began a top-to-bottom internal review,” the AA statement continued. “Shortly after, the FAA began its own independent review. American has been working with the FAA and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) to address concerns that were raised in these reviews. Last week, we notified the FAA that we have taken action to address and implement nearly all of the recommendations made in order to follow best practices and strengthen the safety of the program.”

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