Senator Blumenthal’s tough questions miss the point

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Blumenthal: Stronger Oversight Over FAA Is Needed

Questions a Policy in Effect for over 2 years

Had multiple Opportunities to Question

Valid Issue- SMS detection of CFM 56 fault

 

The senior Senator from Connecticut, in his 8th year in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body and 4th Ranking Minority member of the Commerce Committee and 3rd Ranking Minority on the Aviation Subcommittee, has spoken on the tragic catastrophic Southwest Airlines uncontained failure of its CFM 56 accident.

Sen. Blumenthal’s impressive resume[1]includes attributes well suited for his position:

  • “…fighting for people against large and powerful special interests.”
  • “His aggressive law enforcement…”
  • “…advocated for reforms…”
  • “He has worked relentlessly to eradicate…”
  • “His vigorous investigation and legal action…”

[direct quotes from his Senate biography]

Clearly, he has the leadership and vision to address problems as soon as he is aware of them. His analytical skills are so perceptive that the Senator can detect flaws and act om them.

Thus, it is not unexpected that he issued this insightful press release about his assessment of what the reason why this tragedy happened:

The CT Senator points to the FAA’s adoption of a new approach to safety—

  • moving away from a punitive, confrontational Enforcement program

to

  • one in which the FAA and industry used Meta Data to jointly reduce risks proactively.

What his statement to WCBS 880 Radio does not make explicit is that the aggressive protector of the people KNEW or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN that the FAA implemented this program now in need of immediate scrutiny and greater Senate involvement was announced in 2015—

[formal FAA orders signed by Administrator Huerta, appointed by President Obama]

FAA Administrator issues new Order on Enforcement Policy; will Field follow it?– June 2015

FAA Safety Compliance moves from penalties to collaborative fixes of Root Causes; No/Maybe/Yes?—September 14 ,2015

FAA Legal Reorganization is an Effective Mechanism of a New Compliance Policy Now, October 1,2015

Flight Safety Foundation praises FAA’s & CASA’s new Safety Compliance Approach; Impact? October 27, 2015

New FAA Compliance Policy a Sea Change from Enforcement—10 Forcing Elements June 14,2016

As a seasoned member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Blumenthal knew or is imputed to know that the FAA’s staffing was being reduced by Congress. The agency executives were, intentionally or subconsciously, encouraged by the Hill to do more with less, which mandates that the organization must become less labor intensive and more dependent on systems. One of the Aviation Subcommittee’s hearings was entitled A Growth Agenda: Reducing Unnecessary Regulatory Burdens; the message from the legislative body with greatest influence over the FAA—less regulation.

Senator Blumenthal, as a crusading protector of the people, had 11 hearings directed at the FAA since 2015. It would have been appropriate for this advocate to ask the witnesses about the transition to the new regulatory regime. The record does not suggest that “intentional deviation” was raised by this reformer. Did this incredibly smart, senior legislator not understand what the FAA was doing? Or was the new enforcement policy not significant enough for this fighter for the people to raise it?

Almost 100 million US-operated airline flights, carrying several billion people, had taken off and landed safely in the United States over a nine-year span since the last time a passenger died in an accident. It was the first in-flight fatality due to an accident in Southwest’s 47-year history, and it ended a nearly ten-year period of zero passenger fatalities aboard U.S. airlines. Meanwhile, car accidents kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.“Engines are unbelievably reliable. They’re built with the best materials,” says John Goglia, an aviation safety consultant and former member of the NTSB. “Consider that the last failure (two years ago) was effectively a couple of million of flight hours ago.” That’s partly because of improvements in ultrasound and other technology used to do the inspections. “It’s all data-driven now; they get a really good looking-at,” he says.

Oh by the way, over the 33 months since Compliance Philosophy Order, issued on September 3, 2015, Order 2150.3B, Change 9 as well as FAA Order 8300, on June 26, 2015, the Commerce  Committee held 158 hearings.

Maybe the Senator did not raise his concerns because 2017 Marked Safest Year in Commercial Aviation History?

The Senator’s job is to ask questions and Congress should ask questions about the FAA’s policies. The relationship between the Legislative and Executive Branches involves such oversight. The systems implemented by the FAA are considered by the world aviation safety community to represent the state-of-the-art method to reduce risk. The International Civil Aviation organization has urged all of the world’s civil aviation safety organizations to adopt SMS and the associated systems. Australia, European CAA’s and EASA all are either implementing this process or have established them. The power of the data being used is multiplied by the sharing between the globe’s aviation authorities.

That is NOT to say that the new approach is perfect. The FAA is working to improve the systems and the analyses of the numbers. The Southwest accident will be scrutinized as to why the history of the CFM 56 engine did not create a risk warning.

That’s the question which the senior Senator from Connecticut should ask.

[1] Harvard College (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude), and Yale Law School, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal. From 1970 to 1976 he served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, and was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant.



 

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