Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: FAA reveals the truth by mistake

It's only by accident that the public knows about a perilous maintenance lapse on an Allegiant Airlines jet that could have resulted in tragedy. The Federal Aviation Administration investigated the incident, found critical mistakes by the company hired to do the maintenance and then covered up its own findings. The troubling episode undermines confidence in the FAA, which should be forthcoming and transparent when public safety is at stake.

Pilots of an Allegiant jet leaving Las Vegas in mid 2015 aborted takeoff at 138 mph when the plane's nose started lifting up, out of their control. A part connecting the cockpit controls to the plane's elevators had slipped out of place. If that had happened in the air, the pilots would have lost control. Inspectors with Allegiant and the FAA concluded that a piece holding the component together had never been installed when maintenance was performed on the aircraft three months earlier — one small indication of larger problems at AAR Aircraft Services, the national aviation maintenance company that did the work. The FAA's investigator dug further and found that AAR technicians sometimes performed only perfunctory inspections or skipped them altogether and slammed their conduct as reckless and careless, fueled by a company culture that is indifferent to its own errors.

UNCOVERED, THEN HIDDEN: FAA investigation warned of potential tragedy

Despite the inspector's recommendation that the company be fined the maximum amount, higher-ups at the FAA saw no need for such a harsh sanction. AAR had already made adequate fixes, in their view. Those included requiring workers to watch safety videos and adding a third inspector to check work when two others failed to notice lapses — hardly the serious corrective measures that are warranted when critical safety steps are being bypassed. That leniency mirrors the FAA's general oversight of Allegiant, which has a well-documented record of mechanical failures. A Tampa Bay Times analysis last year found that Allegiant's planes were four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. The FAA was content to let the airline police itself and didn't fine or sanction Allegiant, which handles more than 95 percent of passenger traffic at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. This incident, however, is bigger than just Allegiant — AAR does maintenance work for many major airlines as well as the federal government.

READ THE INVESTIGATION: Breakdown at 30,000 feet

And yet none of this would be known except that the FAA accidentally sent its full unredacted investigative file to Times reporter Nathaniel Lash after refusing to produce the full record. What the FAA knowingly provided blacked out its inspector's most critical findings from the public. Did the FAA try to keep that information secret to protect AAR, or because it wanted to conceal its own slap-on-the-wrist handling of the incident? Whatever the reason, the FAA's secrecy is at odds with its core mission of protecting the flying public.

There is plenty of blame to go around in assessing the near-tragedy of Allegiant Flight 436. The airline has too many incidents of mechanical failures and unexpected landings. AAR cannot explain multiple lapses in standard maintenance practices that add up to a systemic problem. But the FAA looks like the worst offender because it is acting on behalf of the public to ensure the airlines are safe. The window the FAA inadvertently opened into its probe of AAR — in which it reversed the recommendation of its own veteran inspector — raises questions about how vigorously the agency is enforcing safety standards across the industry.

Comments
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18