Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer on Sunday criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for what he called steadily declining maintenance enforcement over the past several years.
Schumer, whose office combed through four years of data from the FAA, said there has been a decline in maintenance enforcement since at least 2014, and questioned whether the agency is meeting enforcement and oversight mandates. He called on the FAA to explain the findings.
“Since at least 2014, it would appear the FAA has been in a nose-dive on safety and that simply cannot fly,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “We know flying in America is extremely safe, and much of the safety and security we feel in the skies is because of the federal government leading the charge and demanding safety be priority number one. But, there are also times when that culture of safety the FAA has championed comes into question, and that is where we are today, asking hard questions spurred by data and a number of recent incidents and reports.”
His audit came less than a week after the engine on a Southwest LaGuardia-to-Dallas flight exploded mid-air, killing one passenger and forcing an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Investigators have said the engine showed signs of metal fatigue where the fan blade broke off.
Schumer said the agency needs to take a more proactive approach to addressing problems, rather than waiting for a tragedy to occur. According to Schumer’s office, the FAA filed enforcement actions related to maintenance issues only 28 times, a 73.3 percent decrease since 2014, when the agency filed 105 maintenance-related enforcement actions.
A representative for the FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the FAA’s website, the agency issued an “emergency airworthiness directive” on Friday that requires inspections of fan blades on CFM56-7B engines with more than 30,000 cycles within 20 days. According to the FAA, the engine manufacturer estimates the directive affects 352 engines in the U.S. and 681 worldwide.
“The bottom line is that we need to let FAA inspections on airplane maintenance clear the runway, and we need to release the data we collect so the public and safety experts are well aware of any airlines potentially skimping on public and aviation safety,” Schumer said.