FAA undermines its safety efforts with inadequate data, GAO says

The Federal Aviation Administration needs to close gaps in its data collection and analysis in order to further reduce risks of air crashes and accidents, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

For years, the FAA has been using data retroactively to understand air crashes, but recently it has shifted to a proactive approach to prevent accidents before they occur. However, the new approach requires better data and systems, the GAO said in the April 25 report.

“Implementing systems and processes that capture accurate and complete data are critical for FAA to determine the magnitude of safety issues, assess their potential impacts, identify their root causes, and effectively address and mitigate them,” the GAO report said.

The report identified weaknesses in review processes for some of the existing databases.

But other gaps remain unaddressed. For example, the FAA does not have a process to track or assess dangerous runway excursions, in which aircraft veer off or overrun a runway, the GAO said in the report.

FAA agreed with the need for excursion data and is currently developing a program for collection and analysis, and also drafting definitions and a process for categorizing and analyzing the data.

However, according to GAO’s review of FAA’s plans, “it will be several years before FAA has obtained enough detailed information about these incidents to assess risks,” the report said.

Similar gaps exist with regard to data on ramp incidents and accidents.

The GAO made several recommendations to remedy the gaps and weaknesses in data, and the FAA agreed with most of them and has begun carrying out initiatives to fix the problems, the report said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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