UN aviation council launches first US air safety audit since 2007

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The UN aviation council this week will launch the first audit of the US civil aviation safety oversight system since 2007, a US Federal Aviation Administration official told reporters on Tuesday.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will conduct the two-week audit with 12 auditors from 10 countries, beginning on Wednesday. Results are due in January. It will review the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Defense Department, Federal Communications Commission and other US agencies involved in aviation.

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There will be 790 questions covering eight areas including civil aviation legislation and regulation, aircraft accident and incidents investigations, air navigation services. Audits help the ICAO determine implementation of international standards.

A good score would allow the US to demonstrate leadership in meeting robust aviation safety standards and to encourage nations around the world to do the same, the FAA official said.

The US has the world’s most complex airspace and has an impressive safety record with the last fatal US passenger airline crash in February 2009. The last ICAO audit of the US was in 2007 was under a different methodology.

The FAA also audits other countries for compliance with ICAO safety standards. The FAA downgraded Mexico in May 2021 and restored Mexico’s higher rating in September, which allowed Mexican carriers to expand US routes and add new service.

The FAA has struggled with a persistent shortage of air traffic controllers and a series of near-miss incidents, including some blamed on controller errors.

At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages. The FAA is short of staffing targets by about 3,000 controllers. Last month, the FAA said it was again extending cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2025, citing air traffic controller staffing shortages.

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