Whistleblower report finds FAA did not properly oversee Southwest Airlines

An investigation revealed that the Federal Aviation Administration mishandled it's oversight of Southwest Airlines.

The whistleblower report, that was made public Wednesday, alleges agency officials’ conduct could have posed a danger to travelers.

The report also alleged Southwest Airlines officials and union representatives resisted cooperating with investigations.

Some of the incidents described in this report have been documented in past investigations into the FAA and Southwest’s relationship.

The FAA has responded that it agrees with some of the allegations raised, and has taken corrective steps.

The relationship between regulator and the regulated is again in the spotlight with an investigation into the FAA, completed in April but released Wednesday, that examined the agency’s oversight of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. 

It hones in on allegations against an FAA division, that’s based in Irving, tasked with oversight of Southwest.

Specifically, whistleblower complaints that the FAA ooffice "….knowingly permitted SWA to engage in unsafe and improper actions that compromised the safety of the flying public, with limited or no repercussions."

Among the findings, the report claims the FAA mismanaged several flight incidents due to pilot error and temporarily allowed certain aircraft to fly without proper regulatory inspections.

There are other whistleblower claims about safety that weren't fully substantiated.

The investigation also examined the use of a voluntary disclosure program, finding that Southwest pilot union representatives "…consistently pushed for acceptance of all reports, and not in compliance with program acceptance criteria. Likewise, the company’s representatives consistently pressed for reports to be accepted and closed as quickly as possible." 

The investigation goes on to note the FAA reps often felt outnumbered and gave in to pressure.

Chris Manno is a retired airline captain who spent decades at American Airlines.

He notes the FAA workers are often outnumbered.

"It's like a job of delegation. So in one way, it's not surprising that a lot of these discrepancies get swept under the rug," he said. "It makes the FAA look bad. It makes the FAA principal operations inspector look bad, and it makes the airline look bad. So in the public interest, the deck is stacked to make things go away."

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In response to the report, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson noted some of the incidents have already been documented, calling the complaints "years-old allegations," and going on to say "Southwest was then and remains proud of its safety record. As part of our emphasis on safety, we have maintained a transparent and professional relationship with the FAA."

The relationship with Southwest isn’t the only FAA relationship that’s faced scrutiny in recent years.

In the wake of deadly crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max jet, critics argued the FAA was underfunded, often left delegating tasks to the plane-maker, leading to a cozy relationship.

Manno said he feels completely safe on any of the U.S. airlines, but is concerned about the trend in oversight.

"The overwhelming trend, though, of manning the numbers game, the delegation and the incentive to cover things up, that hasn't changed. And I don't like that, but I don't know what the answer is, other than perhaps another layer of bureaucracy that would be more like an accounting office to do auditing of what is the FAA itself doing," he added.