FAA Lowered Bar for Southwest Airlines Approvals, Complaint Alleges
By Andy Pasztor and Alison Sider, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 22, 2020 (excerpt)
U.S. air-safety regulators likely acted improperly in the way they authorized Southwest Airlines Co. to begin flights between California and Hawaii last year, according to the main government agency that handles federal whistleblower complaints.
The preliminary conclusion by the Office of Special Counsel pertains to a Federal Aviation Administration employee’s allegations that agency managers gave the carrier preferential treatment by rushing the approval process and cutting corners in other ways. The counsel’s staff “found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” by FAA employees, according to one document, among several documents and emails between staff and the whistleblower reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The inquiry hasn’t been made public.
The employee, who has been granted formal whistleblower protections, alleged that FAA managers engaged in “gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority” for “the financial benefit of the airline,” according to the counsel’s summary.
The claims, alleging the FAA sought to help Southwest reach one of its top growth priorities, aren’t related to ongoing investigations of the grounded fleet of Boeing Co. ’s 737 MAX jet. If the allegations are substantiated, however, they would offer more evidence of FAA lapses regulating the aviation industry’s safety.
The FAA already faces intense scrutiny from lawmakers, travelers and other critics who contend that the agency ceded too much authority to Boeing in the MAX’s design. The latest allegations, combined with prior FAA failures to hold the carrier fully accountable for safety shortcomings, may result in greater scrutiny of potential operational hazards at various carriers….
The special counsel’s finding late last year has prompted an investigation by the FAA’s internal compliance watchdog, according to spokesmen for the FAA and the Transportation Department, which supervises the agency. That probe focuses on how Southwest received permission last February to launch service on those long oceanic routes, regarded for years by airline management as prime growth markets….
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PH: Blowing The Whistle On Good Government Service