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Audit: FAA has not effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ SMS
12 February 2020
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded following an audit, that the FAA has not effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ safety management system (SMS).
On March 9, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established requirements for air carriers to implement a formal, top down approach to identifying and managing safety risks, known as  However, recent events have raised concerns about FAA’s safety oversight, particularly for Southwest Airlines, one of the largest passenger air carriers in the United States.
In early 2018, the OIG received a hotline complaint regarding FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines and a number of operational issues at the carrier. Subsequently, in April 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 suffered an engine failure, killing one passenger on board. In June 2018, the OIG initiated an audit to assess FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines’ SMS.
The audit found that Southwest Airlines continued to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns. For example, FAA learned in 2018 that the carrier regularly and frequently communicated incorrect aircraft weight and balance data to its pilots. Southwest Airlines also operated aircraft in an unknown airworthiness state, including more than 150,000 flights on previously owned aircraft that did not meet U.S. aviation standards. In both cases, the carrier continued operating aircraft without ensuring compliance with regulations because FAA accepted the air carrier’s justification that the issues identified were low safety risks.
Also, FAA inspectors did not evaluate air carrier risk assessments or safety culture as part of their oversight of Southwest Airlines’ SMS. This is because FAA had not provided inspectors with guidance on how to review risk assessments or how to evaluate and oversee a carrier’s safety culture.
The audit resulted in eleven recommendations to the FAA to improve its oversight of Southwest Airlines’ SMS. The FAA concurred with all recommendations.
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