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Audit initiated of FAA’s safety oversight of Southwest Airlines
21 June 2018

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has initiated an audit of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Southwest Airlines.

On March 9, 2015, FAA established requirements for all part 121 air carriers to implement a formal, top-down approach to managing safety risks, known as safety management systems. Under this approach, FAA and air carriers are to develop systems to identify hazards and implement corrective actions that mitigate risk. Specifically, air carriers must identify root causes for hazards and
proactively manage risk to prevent accidents.

However, recent events have raised concerns about FAA’s safety oversight, particularly for Southwest Airlines, one of the largest part 121 carriers in the United States. On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 suffered an engine failure and debris penetrated the aircraft cabin, resulting in the first U.S. passenger fatality in over 9 years. Preliminary reports indicate similarities with a previous engine incident that occurred on another Southwest Airlines aircraft during a 2016 flight, but it is unclear what actions the carrier took to manage the risk to prevent a future failure.
In addition, the OIG recently received a hotline complaint regarding a number of operational issues at Southwest Airlines, such as alleged pilot training deficiencies, which raise concerns about FAA’s oversight of the carrier.
Specifically, the OIG is concerned whether FAA’s oversight includes an assessment of the carrier’s ability to identify hazards and analyze and mitigate risks. Based on an analysis of the complaint, relevant documents, and FAA safety information, the OIG initiated a review of FAA’s safety oversight of Southwest Airlines and specifically its safety management system.