Aviation Safety:

Oversight of Foreign Code-Share Safety Program Should Be Strengthened

GAO-05-930: Published: Aug 5, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2005.

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U.S. airlines are increasingly relying on code-share partnerships with foreign carriers to provide additional sources of revenue. Code-sharing is a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline and sells and issues tickets for that flight. To determine whether the foreign code-share partners of U.S. airlines meet an acceptable level of safety, in 2000, the Department of Transportation (DOT) established the Code-Share Safety Program, which requires U.S. airlines to conduct safety audits of their foreign code-share partners as a condition of code-share authorization. GAO's objective was to assess the federal government's efforts to provide reasonable assurance of safety and security on foreign code-share flights. GAO reviewed (1) the extent to which DOT's code-share authorization process is designed to consider safety and security, (2) the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) management of the Code-Share Safety Program, and (3) the implementation of the program by airlines and the results.

In considering U.S. airlines' requests to establish code-share arrangements with foreign carriers, DOT's Office of International Aviation reviews, among other things, any safety and security objections from FAA and TSA. FAA assesses the safety of foreign civil aviation authorities and reviews reports of the safety audits that U.S. carriers have conducted of their foreign airline partners. From fiscal years 2000 through 2004, DOT (1) authorized U.S. airlines to establish or maintain code-share arrangements with foreign carriers 270 times and (2) did not suspend any arrangements because of known safety concerns. According to FAA, however, U.S. airlines occasionally have decided not to pursue code-share arrangements with foreign carriers because they expected FAA would object, and FAA sometimes puts its reviews of proposed code-share arrangements on hold if the agency has safety concerns. FAA and TSA did not object to any of the authorizations during that period for safety or security reasons. Although not involved in the code-share authorization process, the Department of Defense (DOD) reviews the safety of foreign airlines that transport DOD personnel. For their separate programs, FAA and DOD are reviewing many of the same safety audit reports on foreign carriers. The Code-Share Safety Program, which calls for U.S. airlines to conduct periodic safety audits of their foreign code-share partners, incorporates selected government auditing standards involving independence, professional judgment, and competence. However, FAA's reviews of the safety audit reports lacked management controls for reviewers' qualifications, documenting the closure of safety audit findings, verifying corrective actions taken in response to findings, and documenting reviews. Eight U.S. airlines with foreign code-share partners have implemented the DOT program by conducting safety audits of their foreign partners. According to our review of a random sample of audit reports that FAA reviewed from fiscal years 2000 through 2004, the largest numbers of safety findings identified were in the categories of (1) flight operations and (2) maintenance and engineering. GAO estimates that for 68 percent of the findings, the documentation was insufficient to demonstrate that the findings were closed or were resolved. Airlines are beginning to adopt a new safety audit program that requires the documentation of findings and corrective actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005 and July 2006, FAA and DOD officials met to explore whether redundancies exist in the two programs that might be eliminated.

    Recommendation: To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to explore with DOD potential opportunities to reduce duplication of efforts in reviewing the same safety audit reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA revised its Code-Share Safety Program policy to require that the Code-Share Program Manager be an Aviation Safety Inspector who has successfully completed industry code-share auditing training prior to conducting any code-share audits. In addition, FAA revised its code-share job aid to document its reviews of airlines' safety audit reports, including documenting whether all findings were closed.

    Recommendation: To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to develop mechanisms to enhance FAA's management controls over its reviews of the safety audit reports. In developing the mechanisms, FAA should consider standardizing the qualifications and training needed for agency staff to review the airlines' safety audit reports; identifying ways to document its reviews of the airlines' safety audit reports; increasing the scrutiny of audit reports that have an unusually high or low number of findings, periodically selecting a sample of safety audits to conduct a comprehensive review of the underlying documentation collected; and collecting and analyzing information on the audit findings for the foreign code-share partners of U.S. airlines so that the data can be more easily quantified and analyzed to spot possible trends and anomalies, should FAA decide such analyses are needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2006, DOT issued revised Code-Share Safety Program Guidelines that clarify the procedures that U.S. airlines should follow in documenting the closure of safety audit findings regarding their foreign code-share partners.

    Recommendation: To improve the safety oversight of foreign code-share operations, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to revise the Code-Share Safety Program guidelines to improve the effectiveness of the program and the clarity of the procedures that the airlines should follow in documenting and closing out safety audit findings. Because the audit guidelines indicate that the airlines should not submit compliance statements until all corrective actions have been completed, but FAA is allowing the airlines to resolve "nonsafety-critical" findings later, FAA should consider either following that guideline or defining "safety-critical" audit findings, so that the airlines and FAA reviewers know which types of findings must be corrected before submitting the compliance statements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a May 8, 2007, letter to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, DHS indicated that an information sharing process regarding TSA's foreign airport security assessments has been established with DOD that allows the review of assessment reports and other information as needed. DHS also indicated that TSA has had internal discussions regarding the development and implementation of a memorandum of understanding with DOD. On August 3, 2007, DHS informed us that although TSA has regular contact with the Air Force, it could not provide any documentation supporting the information sharing process and that TSA has no formal agreement or MOU with DOD on this matter.

    Recommendation: Because security is an important component of assessing airline safety, to improve DOD's oversight of foreign carriers that transport DOD personnel, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for TSA to develop a process of routinely coordinating with DOD regarding information on the security of foreign airports for DOD to consider in reviewing the safety of foreign airlines. Such a process could be documented in a memorandum of understanding or other written procedures to ensure such coordination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

 

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