The FAA: A Tombstone Agency? Putting the Nickname to the Test

Rebecca K. Lutte, Brent D. Bowen


The purpose of this research was to investigate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) activity before and after six catastrophic airline accidents to examine the alleged reactive policy-setting reputation of the FAA. Actions reviewed were regulatory, inspection, and enforcement activities. The study revealed that change in agency activity does occur following an accident. The location of the event appears to influence the direction of change. When accidents occurred within the United States, FAA activity increased following the accident. The opposite occurred for airline accidents outside the U.S. The increase in FAA activity following U.S. based events, supports the reactive, tombstone agency reputation the FAA has acquired. In addition, the research revealed nine FAA activities judged by industry experts as having the ability to improve safety in the airline industry. Inspections and certificate actions are considered activities that will improve safety. Regulatory actions, fines, warning notices, and letters of correction were judged as non-safety enhancing activities. The result of this research was an increased understanding of how the FAA responds to airline accidents and the consequences of the response.

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