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Friday, April 11, 2008


So even an agorophobic like me is aware of the current situation involving the FAA and their horrible safety inspection record that has led to airlines grounding planes indefinitely in order to be serviced and inspected - leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled every day for some airlines.

To be honest, it makes me glad that I'm not someone who flies very often.

I don't want this to be a "sucks to be you" rant, but I would like to give my opinion on the matter. Because I enjoy giving my opinion.

I'm pretty sure that this whole thing started an entire month ago when the Federal Aviation Agency found out that there were missed safety inspections at Southwest Airlines and ordered an audit of their maintenance records. This led to the discovery that dozens of Southwest airplanes hadn't been inspected for cracks in their fuselages. The result was a $10.2 million fine for the airline.

That's when the whistleblowers stepped forward. Safety inspectors for the FAA claimed that the FAA treats airlines more as "customers" rather than companies that need to be regulated and inspected. In fact, "the FAA's chief maintenance inspector at Southwest, Douglas T. Gawadzinski, knowingly allowed Southwest to keep planes flying that put passengers at risk, and that another inspector knew of the problem and did nothing.

Southwest is not the only carrier that has benefited from a "cozy" relationship with regulators, said Tom Brantley, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union that represents FAA inspectors.

In testimony prepared for the hearing, Brantley details maintenance and safety issues at United, Continental Airlines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp., Hawaiian Airlines Inc. and elsewhere where the carriers were given great leeway by the FAA to correct problems that inspectors on the ground said merited more serious attention. Financial penalties for infractions suggested by inspectors against United and other carriers also were ignored or significantly reduced by the time they were assessed, he added."

From there on out, it's just been a back-and-forth between the FAA that is now being brought to light for NOT having inspected planes and the airlines and their airplanes that apparently NEED to be ACTUALLY inspected. This led to the grounding of dozens of airplanes in order to be inspected and given clean bills of health, which results in hundreds and hundreds of cancelled flights for these airlines.

The price of fuel is already skyrocketing to the point of airlines raising their rates and cramming a body into every possible seat - which means that cancelled flights have no way of transferring their passengers to other airlines' flights because they're already overbooked as it is. Airlines are declaring bankrupcy left and right because of the loss of revenue due to grounded planes, fines and a lack of customer satisfaction (not to mention some airlines giving vouchers and paying for hotels as an attempt to compensate).

So I guess what this all boils down to is:

Would you rather:

1) Expose the FAA for the corrupt agency that it has become, which means that airplanes will finally be inspected and maintained, but at the cost of higher prices with cancelled flights on less options of non-bankrupt airlines.

2) Go back to an "ignorance is bliss" lifestyle of less-outrageously expensive tickets on a number of airlines to travel on airplanes that "probably" are safe to fly, knowing that the last time a jumbo jet actually crashed was Nov. 12, 2001.

Don't look at me to advocate one or the other. I'm just saying that these are the two paths - and people didn't seem to be too troubled with option #2 until the bubble was burst on the blissful ignorance and we've automatically careened into option #1 with no hope of going back.

I'm just positing that both were viable options.

Frankly, I'm torn between the two. With all of the comedians chuckling it up over our insane airport security procedures, this is just icing on the cake for them since they'll search you three different ways to make sure you don't have any toothpaste containers over 3 ounces large but apparently won't bother to inspect the plane for cracks along the fuselage. But the point is, does it matter? Are you any more safe after they've finally searched the plane for cracks? Would those cracks have actually taken down your plane and it would have been blood on the hands of the FAA?

One would think that if this wonton disregard for inspection and regulation had gone on for so long - there would have been more evidence of it in airplane crashes and whatnot. Right? Wouldn't you have expected to see this eerie string of plane crashes that after long investigation showed that they were the result of something that should have been caught in an inspection, which would lead to the investigation into the FAA's inspection and then we'd be right back to where we are now - but it would have made a lot more sense.

Maybe I just have a weird way of thinking about these things. Maybe it's the fact that I fly at most two roundtrips per year and never internationally. Maybe it's just the stream of headlines...

ATA Airlines filed for bankruptcy.
SkyBus filed for bankruptcy.
Aloha Airlines filed for bankruptcy.
Frontier Airlines filed for bankruptcy.

Are we looking at the end of passenger aviation? If we do get to keep flying, will we be safe under the watchful eye of a federal agency that likes to look away? Wouldn't it be easier if we let them keep doing it but back in secrecy so that ticket prices could go down and flights could resume at the potential risk of a few plane crashes? What are your thoughts on the matter?

(The whistle gets blown)
(The flights are cancelled)

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