Accident investigation is by definition is slow and methodical
Stack of Old FAA Enforcement Records may be irrelevant
A look at other factors
A cargo B-737 splashed in the Pacific after take-off from HNL. Most reports attribute the forced landing to the uncommon incidence of the two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9A engines failing – one and then the other. An inquisitive KOHN2 Always Investigating reporter thought to ask the FAA for the air carrier’s enforcement records. As the below headline suggests, the article concludes that the FAA has imposed “hundreds of thousands in federal fines…over 100 FAA quarterly enforcement reports that spanned 25 years.” The quote might lead the audience to conclude that the freight operator did not adhere to the Federal Aviation Regulations.
Before adopting that view, one should consider a few points:
- First and foremost, the investigation has not even begun. Making any conclusions now would be extremely premature. The NTSB prohibits the parties to disclose any such information in order to preserve the process’ fairness.
- The FAA’s response to the KOHN2 request specifically refused to discuss the details of these cases. The past problems may have involved training, drug testing, weight & balance issues, pilot hours, etc. Knowledge of what exactly happened in the past is critical to attributing that failure to this accident.
- What organization had the responsibility to maintain the engines? If another certificate holder bore the airworthiness responsibility, the Hawai’ian operator’s history would be almost irrelevant.
- There are a host of other reasons not to adopt the KHON2 implicit determination NOW.
The locus of the decisions whether or not to take actions against this or another FAA certificate holder is the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) Hawai’i. The career staff there has surveillance responsibilities for airlines based in the islands. They initiate the paperwork which would result in the formal actions which KHON2 identified. With the benefit of data from the airline and processed through a state-of-the-art analytical tool, Safety Management Systems. The regimen involves collection of all of the flaws encountered and then identifying the optimal response that should minimize the risk. The FAA moved from ENFORCEMENT to COMPLIANCE as its means for reaching a higher level of safety and the initiative was greeted much positive commentary.
If the FSDO was seeing a trend of engine problems with the airline, it should have initiated a collaborative session to identify effective remedial actions. If that step failed, then proposing a civil penalty would have been appropriate—repeated failure to meet the FAR standards is the justification to escalate the FAA response.
The Honolulu FSDO has a history which may complicate the investigation of this event. In the recent past, whistleblowers have alleged that the local management “ too frequently overrode the recommendations of inspectors, hampering their ability to conduct effective oversight.” The Senate Commerce Committee investigated the whistleblowers’ accusation and issued a damning Fact Sheet. Had the atmosphere improved since the Senate’s discovery of the management-staff tensions.
HONOLULU (KHON2) — The plane that crash-landed in the ocean off Oahu on Friday, July 2, was operated by a company contracted to carry U.S. mail interisland. No mail was aboard the flight, but it led to the grounding of other jets in the fleet of a company with a troubled compliance history with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The owner and operator of Transair and its planes have racked up hundreds of thousands in federal fines and penalties from the FAA. They have managed to keep the fleet going in part to serve a critical U.S. mail contract, however.
The plane that went down was among the older in Transair’s fleet; built in 1975. Transair carries cargo, including mail.
KHON2 has been trying to find out from the FAA if maintenance or operations issues could have contributed to the crash. The FAA said they cannot talk about ongoing investigations, but they do reveal past enforcement actions.
Always Investigating dug through nearly 100 FAA quarterly enforcement reports that spanned 25 years to look for enforcement actions that resulted in fines and penalties associated with Transair, and found more than a dozen that totaled about $210,000.
They include maintenance, flight operations, records and reporting, even drug testing violations. The cases have been closed and fines levied against both Rhoades Aviation, the registered owner of the plane and operator Trans Executive Airlines of Hawaii, which does business as Transair. According to state business records, these corporate entities share the same top executive.
The FAA told Always Investigating in a statement: “The FAA expects compliance to be the standard. Civil penalties are one of the options available to the agency to address instances in which a regulated entity fails to adhere to FAA regulations.”
KHON2 asked the company about the extensive past FAA fines and penalties and a spokesperson responded: “While the NTSB is investigating the incident, the company has been advised not to comment.”
According to sources, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are asking questions about the very things that have been categories of fines and penalties for the company, standard NTSB procedure after plane crashes.
The Boeing 737 crashed about 2 miles off Oahu’s west side around 2 a.m. shortly after it took off heading to Maui. The pilots radioed about engine trouble, lost both engines and ditched the aircraft in the ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued both pilots.
The airline declined to comment about what they did in each enforcement case to rectify what was found wrong. Always Investigating has asked the FAA for details of each enforcement action and will continue to follow up.
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