Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lessons Un-Learned

If the crash headlines have been thankfully scarce for U.S. airlines recently, the regulatory news does not inspire.

Southwest, US Airways, and American Eagle have recently received formal FAA attention for flying planes with unresolved maintenance issues, brazenly in the case of Southwest, which is statistically among the safest carriers in the world.

The Airline that Herb Built reportedly flew 46 737s on 59,000+ flights without mandatory fuselage inspections, and when informed of the oversight promptly flew the planes on 1,451 additional flights.

The FAA fined Southwest $7.5 million, an impressive figure, but less so if we estimate revenue at $350 million on these "maintenance oversight flights."

When there's a mere two-percent haircut waiting for an airline that repeatedly ignores mandatory maintenance items (and then often only after many zero-dollar warnings) there's little incentive to keep the books current.

The incentive is less yet when some passengers shrug their shoulders at nagging rules that pull an airplane out of service for "theoretical" safety issues, especially if that airplane is supposed to get them somewhere soon.

We've been on the other side of the "should we really take this stuff seriously?" question on past occasions ... say, after a crash ... when the question is rephrased to "why didn't anybody take this stuff seriously?"

If you're reading this blog we believe you do take this stuff seriously. We're pretty sure that you know that aviation safety isn't a business expense in aviation, but that aviation safety is the business of aviation.

Beginning in May we'll begin publishing U.S. airline safety evaluations on AVSIG, and we will be giving our members the opportunity to weigh-in. You can be sure that we'll consider more than just hull loss records in looking at each airline's operational safety merits.

We are approaching this project with the attitude that U.S. airline travel is as safe as air travel gets, but that it can always be safer -- especially when the back-page regulatory headlines belie the absence of front-page smoking holes.

M.O.

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