US House of Representatives this week passed aviation safety legislation designed to separate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators and airlines. House Transportation Committee chairman, James Oberstar (D-Minn) said the bill's passage is the "first legislative step in reversing the complacency over safety regulation that has set in at the highest levels of the Federal Aviation Administration."
Through the legislation the House responded to an alleged "cozy" relationship between FAA inspectors and Southwest Airlines.
The legislation now requires a two-year "cooling off period" before former FAA inspectors or officials overseeing inspectors can work for airlines and also requires FAA to rotate principal maintenance inspectors between airline oversight offices at least once every five years. This in response to evidence that such officials, at specific offices, were not only negligent in their inspection routines but routinely ignored specific complaints against carriers, accused of overlooking mandatory safety requirements.
The legislation now provides for establishment of an independent "aviation safety whistle-blower investigation office" charged with receiving and investigating safety complaints submitted by FAA employees as well as airline or MRO company employees.
The bill also directs the FAA to "modify its customer service initiative" to clarify that the agency's customers are the traveling public and not airlines and that carriers "do not have the right to select the employees of [FAA] who will inspect their operations."
The legislation also requires a monthly review of FAA's Air Transportation Oversight System to ensure that safety concerns are identified and acted upon.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.