FAA serves passengers, House member says

April 3, 2008 at 4:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 3 (UPI) -- U.S. air travelers are the customers for the Federal Aviation Administration and its safety inspectors, not airlines, a congressional panel chairman said.

"FAA needs to clean house from top to bottom, take corrective action, hire more inspectors and give them a safety mission," U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said Thursday during a hearing in which whistle-blowers claimed a relationship between the FAA and Southwest Airlines put passengers at risk.

"The air-traveling public are your customers," Oberstar said. "Airlines are not."

FAA inspector Bobby Boutris testified that his concerns that Southwest Airlines inspections weren't heeded by his supervisors, constituting "dereliction of duty and should be criminal."

When it was learned that some Southwest planes had flown too long without undergoing required inspections, Southwest pressed the FAA to remove Boutris from the agency office responsible for monitoring Southwest, Boutris testified.

Another whistle-blowing inspector, Douglas Peters, said a supervisor pressured him for saying he'd report colleagues were allowing unsafe planes to fly.

A congressional investigation found Southwest kept dozens of aircraft flying without mandatory inspections. Southwest later found six of the 47 planes had fatigue cracks, the FAA said.

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