Torqued: Take operational control rules seriously

 - January 3, 2008, 7:55 AM

TAG Aviation USA ended its dispute with the FAA by agreeing to pay a $10 million civil penalty (see '$10 million civil penalty ends TAG, FAA dispute'), but the discussions about the FAA enforcement action against AMI are far from over. The FAA is being criticized for taking action against AMI “even though it never had an accident.”  Is that the new safety indicator for airlines? You’re OK until you put one in the ground?

For years the FAA has been called the “tombstone agency,” acting only after an accident results in a smoldering hole littered with body parts. Whatever you want to say about the FAA’s action on AMI–and it sounds to me like the FAA did the right thing here–let’s not criticize the agency for acting before an accident. I don’t say this about the FAA lightly; in fact, I have a long record of severely criticizing the FAA for failing to do its job of providing adequate oversight of aviation operations.

So even if you think operational control is a confusing concept made up by FAA inspectors and lawyers to play “gotcha,” what about the allegations in the Emergency Orders that AMI couldn’t even produce documentation that an aircraft actually in the air had qualified crews? What about knowing the current status of the airworthiness of an aircraft that had recently taken off, as required by the AMI manual? What about the company’s lack of control over flight and duty time or crew rest? I can think of dozens of accidents where pilot fatigue was a contributing factor. And don’t get me started on the importance of maintenance records, the underpinnings of airworthiness.

None of these requirements are new; they are all part of AMI’s operations manual, which the company submitted to the FAA to comply with the FARs. The operator’s management staff has the responsibility of ensuring that all the processes and procedures in the manual are complied with.

Does the FAA have to wait for a Platinum Jet-type accident–where unqualified crews in an unairworthy aircraft careened across a highway and into a warehouse just before rush hour–before it takes action?

And now we have editorials in all kinds of charter newsletters extolling the virtues of foreign control–even if it is illegal–just because the company is otherwise a good enterprise abroad. Since when do we get to decide which laws we comply with? By this logic, it is acceptable for foreign workers to falsify social security cards as long as they were good workers in their native countries. What the heck–why not have these undocumented workers, say, perform maintenance on our airliners? Sound familiar?

Where were all those supportive editorials when the illegal immigrants working for a certain North Carolina repair station were indicted? Or is outrage reserved only for rich and powerful corporations that break the law and get caught?

All operators need to look at their procedures and processes to ensure that they address the issues of operational control, which the FAA has spent the last two years explaining.

Operational control is not difficult to understand or implement, but it does require attention to detail. As I understand the events leading up to this FAA action, it was the company’s failure to follow the AMI operations manual that led to the suspension and the ownership issues that led to the revocation.