Inspector general criticizes FAA oversight of regional airlines

Dec 22, 2017
Planes at Delta Air Lines gates at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, in 2016. Starting in 2018, the government will begin counting flights operated by the big airlines’ regional partners - flights more prone to delays. (Daniel Krieger/The New York Times File Photo)

A new inspector general’s report says oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration of regional airlines is not keeping pace with industry changes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General said the FAA “may be missing key changes in the industry, such as periods of growth or financial distress at regional air carriers that could have important safety implications.”

Regional carriers that fly under names including Delta Connection operate more than 40 percent of commercial flights in the United States, according to the report. Delta Air Lines contracts with smaller regional airlines to operate some of its shorter flights under the Delta Connection name, similar to what United does as United Express and American does as American Eagle.

But the inspector general’s report issued this week said FAA inspectors didn’t recognize indicators of financial distress at Republic Airways Holdings before the carrier filed for bankruptcy last year, and didn’t mark the company’s financial condition as a risk indicator. An FAA office was “caught off guard” by the bankruptcy.

The regional carrier industry is in flux as some of the regional carriers shrink, merge and win or lose contracts with major airlines. In Delta’s case, its longtime partner ExpressJet, formerly known as Atlantic Southeast Airlines, will end its run as a Delta Connection carrier after late 2018. Another Delta partner, Endeavor Air, will expand to routes previously operated by ExpressJet. It’s one of a number of changes Delta has made to its regional partner lineup over the years.

The inspector general’s report says “FAA’s process for identifying periods of transition and growth at regional carriers is ineffective in some areas.”

In response, the FAA said it “is committed to enhancing its oversight” of airlines and agrees with the inspector general’s recommendations and plans to implement them in 2018.