FAA let Northwest Airlines ignore safety rules, government report finds

Federal regulatory agencies have come under fire recently for their “cozy relationships” with large corporations; the Food and Drug Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the now-defunct Minerals Management Service have all been targeted for reform by the Obama Administration for their failure to enforce safety rules and regulations. Now the Federal Aviation Administration is being investigated for turning a blind eye on Northwest Airlines while it ignored federal safety regulations for more than a decade.

According to a new report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s office, the allegations were first made by Mark Lund, an FAA inspector, who blew the whistle in 2005 and again in 2008, asserting that FAA managers routinely allowed Northwest to escape fines and other corrective action by voluntarily disclosing its safety violations.

According to the Dec. 2009 Investigator General’s report, because its problems and safety violations went uncorrected for so many years, “the status of Northwest’s compliance with more than 1,000 (safety orders) is unknown.” The report was released by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which handles federal whistleblower complaints.

Linda Goodrich, vice president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the union that represents FAA inspectors, told the Associated Press that she is “appalled that an inspector has to go through this much of an extraordinary effort to raise serious safety concerns on behalf of the flying public.”

Lund has “taken a lot of abuse” since he went public with his allegations,” she told the AP. The special counsel’s office, which is required to report its findings to the president, said in a letter to the White House on Thursday that Lund’s allegations have largely been substantiated.

The letter also quoted Lund as saying that an inspector “has to typically fight through the FAA management chain” to perform his duties. He also said that the FAA’s “culture of placing the interests of the carrier over safety continues to pose a risk to the flying public.”

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency “has taken corrective action on the issues identified in the whistleblower complaint and is continuing to monitor compliance.”

Northwest merged with Delta last year to become the world’s largest airline. All of the company’s planes now fly as Delta.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black told the AP that the company is “currently reviewing the documents and, as always, we will fully cooperate with the government agencies to ensure our core values of safety, quality and compliance are not compromised.”