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US FAA Lowered Bar for Southwest Approvals, Whistleblower Alleges

23:16  22 january  2020
23:16  22 january  2020 Source:   online.wsj.com

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FAA employees may either file complaints through the FAA Hotline or through the internal whistleblower program, if applicable. This includes testifying or assisting in a proceeding against the employer relating to a violation or alleged violation of any order, regulation, or standard of the Federal

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U.S. air-safety regulators likely acted improperly in the way they authorized Southwest Airlines Co. to begin flights between California and Hawaii last year, according to the main government agency that handles federal whistleblower complaints.

  FAA Lowered Bar for Southwest Approvals, Whistleblower Alleges © LM Otero/AP Photo

The preliminary conclusion by the Office of Special Counsel pertains to a Federal Aviation Administration employee’s allegations that agency managers gave the carrier preferential treatment by rushing the approval process and cutting corners in other ways. The counsel’s staff “found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” by FAA employees, according to one document, among several documents and emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The inquiry hasn’t been made public.

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It's the fallout from two Federal Aviation Administration whistleblowers who accuse the agency of becoming The whistleblowers are scheduled to testify before Congress on Thursday, but before their date with lawmakers, FAA Gawadzinski, who was aware of Southwest 's alleged deception, is

FAA Home ▸ Offices ▸ Office of Audit and Evaluation ▸ Programs. Whistleblower Protection for FAA Employees. Share on Facebook. The Office of Audit and Evaluation (AAE) receives and evaluates disclosures from current FAA employees concerning: Actions relating to a possible violation of the

The employee, who has been granted formal whistleblower protections, alleged that FAA managers engaged in “gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority” for “the financial benefit of the airline,” according to the counsel’s summary. The claims, alleging the FAA sought to help Southwest reach one of its top growth priorities, aren’t related to ongoing investigations of the grounded fleet of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX.

The special counsel’s finding late last year has prompted an investigation by the FAA’s internal compliance watchdog, according to spokesmen for the FAA and the Transportation Department, which supervises the agency. That probe focuses on how Southwest received permission last February to launch service on those long trans-Pacific routes, regarded for years by airline management as prime growth markets.

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A Southwest spokeswoman said the approval “was deliberate and thorough in following all applicable processes.” The carrier complied with standard FAA requirements and met all FAA regulations during a stringent process that took some 14 months, she said, without responding to specific allegations.

The FAA declined to comment beyond confirming the investigation’s existence.

A spokesman for the counsel’s office declined to comment.

Before a U.S. airline can operate twin-engine jetliners on extended overwater trips hours away from emergency airports, it is subject to special FAA safety reviews, including various drills on the ground followed by demonstration flights without passengers. Southwest, which carries the most domestic passengers, flies only Boeing Co.’s twin-engine 737 models. Three- and four-engine jets aren’t subject to the same rules.

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Southwest Region. The FAA has the responsibility for investigating possible violations of Federal regulations, orders, or standards relating to aviation safety. NOTE: If you have questions about the program, you may call the AIR21 Whistleblower Protection Program Hotline at 844-322-9277 or 202

FAA employees may either file complaints through the FAA Hotline or through the internal whistleblower program, if applicable. This includes testifying or assisting in a proceeding against the employer relating to a violation or alleged violation of any order, regulation, or standard of the Federal

The whistleblower alleged that agency managers held Southwest pilots and officials “to a lower standard than they otherwise would have been,” according to the special counsel’s summary, adding that the managers rushed some of the steps and relied on inspectors from outside the Dallas-area office that normally oversees Southwest. The claims, according to the summary, also alleged that the FAA’s expedited approval “was based solely on the finances of the airline.”

The FAA employees brought in to observe all six demonstration flights, according to the summary of the allegations, lacked the necessary 737 pilot licenses and had less specific knowledge about Southwest operations than local FAA employees. A local inspector, who had the required credentials, was relegated to the cabin during the flights while personnel from FAA headquarters were assigned to sit in the cockpit, according to the summary.

After vetting the claims, the special counsel late last year decided they were significant enough to warrant referral to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Investigation of the allegations was assigned to the FAA’s office of audit and evaluation, which is responsible for following up confidential disclosures by current employees, according to the FAA and the Transportation Department.

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Contact a qualified whistleblower attorney for details, any changes to the laws, or to pursue a whistleblower case. For further details, individuals can make a tax-deductible donation to NWC to receive a copy of The New Whistleblower 's Handbook: A

Book our famous low fares only on the official Southwest Airlines website. View flight status, special offers, book rental cars and hotels and more on southwest .com.

Investigators from that office conducted interviews last week with Dallas-area FAA personnel, according to a person familiar with the details.

Investigators for the House Transportation and Senate Commerce committees separately have been monitoring the allegations and the FAA’s response, according to people familiar with the details. The committees, these people said, learned about it from FAA officials.

The moves come seven months after the FAA removed three senior managers from the local Southwest oversight office, amid other allegations of lax safety enforcement raised by agency whistleblowers and resulting government inquiries.

The Transportation Department’s inspector general has for months been looking into some of those issues, including lapses by Southwest in documenting maintenance for more than 100 of its jets and failures over the years to reliably compute the weight of checked baggage.

Less than two weeks ago, the FAA proposed a $3.9 million penalty against the airline over the electronic transfer of aircraft weight data. Southwest said it would work with the FAA to resolve the issue. The agency also has stepped up compliance reviews of baggage loading.

The whistleblower, according to special counsel documents, alleged that the approval last February of Southwest’s Hawaii plans was part of a wish list of industry requests “to help the airlines recover financially” from a partial government shutdown in December 2018.

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Several laws provide whistleblowers with financial rewards when they submit information that helps the government recover funds from those who commit fraud. Whistleblower Reward Percentages. The size of the final award is calculated as a percentage of the total recovery that resulted from the

FAA employees may either file complaints through the FAA Hotline or through the internal whistleblower program, if applicable. This includes testifying or assisting in a proceeding against the employer relating to a violation or alleged violation of any order, regulation, or standard of the Federal

Southwest’s push to offer flights to Hawaii was part of the airline’s bid to fend off growing competition in California. Hawaii is a popular vacation spot for Californians, and Southwest executives had described the destination as a gap in the airline’s network, one they were anxious to plug.

The effort appears to have paid off. Hawaii service, which began in March, was one of the bright spots in 2019 for Southwest in what was otherwise a challenging year, as the airline grappled with the grounding of the 737 MAX.

The overall length of the FAA’s review, including a slower pace than Southwest anticipated during the initial phases, meant flights started a few months after the carrier had hoped to begin service. The 35-day partial government shutdown threatened to derail the final push. Costs mounted as the process dragged on, because Southwest had already invested in airport improvements in Hawaii and other startup costs, but wasn’t yet able to offer flights to the islands.

According to the whistleblower, FAA managers revved up pressure to meet accelerated deadlines once federal employees returned to work after the furloughs. At the time, Southwest and FAA officials were eager to complete the process before another potential government shutdown, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Tickets for the airline’s first Hawaii flights sold out almost immediately after going on sale two weeks before service began.

Southwest serves Hawaii destinations from Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose with its current fleet of 737s, but eventually plans to use 737 MAX jets, once those return to service.

Schiff slams GOP senators on whistleblower questions: 'Disgraceful' .
"Members of this body used to care about the protection of whistleblower identities," Schiff told the senators.The question, from Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and others, asked about allegations that National Security Council staffers had said they had to "take out the president," and that one of those people now works with Schiff and has a relationship with the whistleblower.

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