Air Transport World

FAA enforcement - a double standard? (for large and small air carriers)

FAA enforcement--A double standard?

The Federal Aviation Administration apparently tolerates repeated violations by large airlines with only administrative or economic punishment, when punishment is applied, while treating small carriers with a disproportionate number of certificate suspensions and revocations, ATW has discovered by examining FAA records.

The record of completed FAA enforcement actions from 1980 to present shows that only 0.14% of violation notices filed against large operators led to certificate actions. Small operators' violations led to certificate actions 40 times more often, or 5.6% of the total citations. Conversely, FAA levied 610 fines totalling $3.8 million against the larger Part 121 airlines compared with only 71 fines with a sum of $127,000 brought against smaller Part 135 and 121 carriers in the same period. Only once in that period did FAA consider pulling the certificate of a major or national carrier--Pan Am in 1984.

Commuter and regional airline operators have long claimed that FAA has used certificate actions more often against them, while opting for high civil fines as punishment for large Part 121 carriers. The FAA's own reports support those allegations.

It's been more than 18 months since FAA revoked the operating certificates of Provincetown-Boston Airlines, "a watershed event,' Regional Airline Association believes, which stunned the commuter/regional airline industry.

In the last two years, FAA acted 17 times to suspend or revoke certificates held by small carriers. Of the 23 certificate actions taken against commuter and regional carriers during the last six-plus years, two occurred each year in 1980, 1981 and 1983. The overwhelming majority happened more recently, with seven in 1984, nine in 1985, and, at this writing, one this year.

In contrast, FAA suspended or revoked the certificate of an airline operating large aircraft six times in the past six-plus years. One of those actions came in 1980, four in 1984, and one in 1985.

Mistakes made?

Though the cry came slowly at first, the regional industry finally cried "Foul!' Public and political concerns about the safety and experience of the airline industry overall was prompting FAA to dole out its harshest penalties against those carriers least capable of defending themselves legally and politically, critics maintained.

"There exists a double standard,' they said. "By grounding little airlines, FAA can turn to the public and point to how tough their enforcement practices really are.'

According to Alan Stephen, executive VP, Regional Airline Association, FAA was wrong in some of its actions. …

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