Saturday, April 21, 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.

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Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

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Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

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Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18