Risk-based Repair Station Surveillance: From Wanted To Needed

This week's release of an updated audit on FAA's repair station oversight underscored numerous shortcomings that are keeping the agency's five-year-old risk-based surveillance program from taking hold. This, combined with sequestration, could mean turbulent skies ahead.

The audit, completed by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, hammers home that the problems are systemic. Inspectors don't have the proper tools in their toolboxes to apply meaningful, consistent oversight in areas that need it most; and many of them don't use--or even understand--the tools they have.

The report also relied on data pulled from some pretty big names in the MRO world, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

Such findings--which some in the industry question in much the same way OIG challenges FAA's efforts--don't point to unsafe operations. MRO operations clearly play a role in the current run of stellar airline safety.

What the findings suggest is that FAA's new surveillance efforts can't ensure that certificate holders are following both their own procedures and the agency's regulations. No matter the impact on day-to-day safety, this is not good. 

A secondary challenge is the strain that an oversight system steeped in rote inspections puts on FAA's workforce. 

Congress may have slowed sequestration's impact on the agency, but the budget reductions aren't going away. 

The move to reallocate airport grant funds to FAA's operating budget may have stopped the furloughs, but FAA has no plans to backfill positions on an Aviation Safety workforce that, thanks to a hiring freeze, has been shrinking for months.

FAA's risk-based surveillance system is supposed to help the agency gain resources by improving processes, as opposed to adding bodies.

Thanks to sequestration, getting it right is no longer just a goal--it's a necessity.

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