FAA Bans ex-FAA Aircraft Safety Inspector Hires

 - August 31, 2011, 11:30 AM

The FAA has issued a final rule placing restrictions on operators employing former Flight Standards Service Aviation Safety Inspectors. The rule, which applies to operations under Parts 121, 125, 133, 135, 137, 141, 142, 145 and 147, prohibits the operator from employing an ex-FAA inspector, under specified conditions, from acting as an agent or a representative of the certificate holder in any matter before the FAA.  Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, told AIN, “Certain certificate holders cannot let a flight standards inspector and/or manager who had direct responsibility for inspection or oversight represent the company in any matter before the agency, but the rule is not inclusive. For instance, it doesn’t include operations under FAR Part 61 or Part 65. “It is a particularly toothless regulation since the certificate holder can still hire any flight standards personnel who did not have direct responsibility or oversight of the certificate holder. Additionally, it does not prohibit the company from hiring any person who did have direct responsibility or oversight for other purposes such as consulting on how the company might best represent itself. In other words, as long as the former FAA person does not act as an agent or representative of the certificate holder in any matter before the agency, the hiring is not prohibited by the new rule,” she said.  According to the FAA’s final rule, the restriction applies “if the individual, in the preceding two-year period, directly served as, or was directly responsible for the oversight of, a Flight Standards Service Aviation Safety Inspector, and had direct responsibility to inspect, or oversee the inspection of, the operations of the certificate holder.” The rule also stipulates that it applies to people who own or manage fractional ownership program aircraft that are used to conduct operations under Subpart K of Part 91.  The catalyst for the action has its roots in a situation that occurred from June 2006 to March 2007 during which Southwestoperated aircraft without performing mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking. The FAA alleged that the air carrier’s fleet of 46 Boeing 737s flew approximately 60,000 flights while failing to comply with an existing FAA Airworthiness Directive that required repetitive inspections of certain fuselage areas to detect fatigue cracking. The FAA’s response was a $10.2 million civil penalty, which was ultimately settled for $7.5 million.  Subsequently, the DOT Office of Inspector General (IG) determined the FAA Certificate Management Office responsible for the airline’s oversight had developed an “overly collaborative relationship” with the airline. The IG recommended a post-employment “cooling-off” period to prohibit an operator from hiring a safety inspector who previously inspected that air carrier, from acting in any type of liaison capacity between it and the FAA.