DOT probes FAA oversight of Southwest


Washington (AP) - Investigators will probe the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of Southwest Airlines Co. after receiving evidence from whistleblowers that a plane was allowed to fly without proper inspection.

Rep. Jim Oberstar requested the audit after whistleblowers gave him documentation showing that the FAA inspector responsible for Southwest "demonstrated extremely poor judgment by allowing the air carrier to operate aircraft in revenue service without properly inspecting the aircraft for fuselage cracks," according to a letter from the Transportation Department inspector general's office to the FAA.

The House Transportation Committee has scheduled an oversight hearing for March 12 that will include findings of an investigation by congressional staffers and the Transportation Department of the FAA's oversight of aircraft maintenance, a committee spokesman said Tuesday. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairs the committee.

Representatives from the FAA and Southwest did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The inspector general's office said the audit, to begin this week, will investigate the thoroughness of the FAA's investigation of the whistleblower allegations and the corrective measures taken by the agency in response to "any inappropriate inspector actions."

The inspectors will also examine the oversight process to see if the FAA needs to strengthen it, according to the letter sent Monday.

Some lawmakers have expressed concern about the FAA's inspector staffing levels. On Monday, the Teamsters union and a business traveler trade group called for a moratorium on all aircraft maintenance done overseas because they say foreign locations are not properly regulated.

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