A whistleblower from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has alleged that regulators cut corners and neglected safety concerns in an effort to aid Southwest Airlines.
The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistleblower complaints from federal agencies, “Found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” after reviewing the complaint. It has since granted whistleblower protection status to the complainant.
The whistleblower contends that FAA managers exercised “gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority” for “the financial benefit of the airline”. The report has not been made public, but was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
In the most pointed example of alleged FAA favoritism, the whistleblower alleged that the FAA fast-tracked approval of Southwest’s new Hawaiian routes, neglecting the sort of rigorous testing that is required for two engine jets to travel overwater without emergency airports in the vicinity. Specifically, untrained employees were present during inspection and the whole process was labeled a charade rather than a serious safety inspection.
This all comes as Southwest remains under heightened scrutiny for other violations like failing to keep detailed maintenance records or accurately compute the weight of checked bags.
Motive is still an issue: time will tell if Southwest bribed officials for the expedited approval. For now, Southwest claims the approval process “was deliberate and thorough in following all applicable processes” and took 14 months, hardly a rush job.
While there is no link to this complaint the FAA malfeasance surrounding the 737 MAX, both paint a picture of lax regulation with undue influence from airlines or manufacturers. Whoever is to “blame” is not really the issue here. Instead, there is indeed at least circumstantial evidence of mismanagement and abuse of authority…in this case and in others. We must insist upon better.
image: Southwest Airlines