Aviation Safety

FAA and the State Department Can Better Manage Foreign Enforcement Cases Gao ID: RCED-94-87 March 17, 1994

In November 1992, a foreign-operated aircraft departing from Miami International Airport experienced engine failure, ditched into the Atlantic Ocean, and sank. The aircraft was overweight on takeoff, could not climb to the proper altitude, and narrowly missed high-rises in a heavily populated area before it crashed. The operator had no liability insurance on the aircraft and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) discovered that the plane did not meet international safety standards. FAA has not effectively managed its enforcement workload, and as a result, foreign governments and FAA have not acted on all safety violations that they have referred to one another. This inability to act was mainly due to the length of time FAA took to process cases, which FAA attributed to staffing shortages and other priority work. Furthermore, FAA did not follow up on foreign referrals and, consequently, could not say which governments were not acting or why. Delays in processing violations and following up have resulted in cases being closed without being investigated. FAA found deficiencies that weakened foreign countries' enforcement capabilities. Overall, 16 of the 26 countries that FAA assessed between August 1991 and September 1993 did not meet international safety standards. Deficiencies included a lack of inspectors to look into violations, no technical expertise to carry out inspection programs, and no regulations for taking enforcement actions or assessing penalties. The Transportation Department assessed 26 penalties totaling about $1.25 million against foreign carriers between 1989 and 1992. Only two of the carriers failed to pay up, and the Department revoked both carriers' operating authority.

GAO found that: (1) foreign governments and FAA have not acted on all referred safety violations because FAA has not effectively managed its enforcement workload; (2) FAA does not track cases it refers to foreign governments or timely process some foreign authorities' referrals to FAA; (3) foreign governments did not act on 48 of the 146 cases referred to them, primarily because FAA referred the cases after the statutory time limits; (4) FAA uses the Department of State to send cases to foreign governments, but State does not track the outcome of these enforcement cases; (5) State has revised its procedures to require its embassies to follow up on FAA referrals; (6) FAA did not act on 22 of 58 foreign government-referred cases mainly because it took too long to send them to its field offices for investigation; (7) FAA has taken steps to prevent the recurrence of untimely case processing; (8) FAA and foreign governments generally do not notify each other of case dispositions; (9) foreign government enforcement weaknesses include failure to meet international safety standards and lacks of inspectors, surveillance programs, technical expertise, and regulations for taking enforcement actions or assessing civil penalties; and (10) DOT collected fines in 26 of 28 actions against foreign carriers between 1989 and 1992, and revoked two carriers' operating authority after they failed to pay their fines and committed additional violations.


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