FAA will do away with paper in its airline safety inspections

The Federal Aviation Administration is upgrading a system that tracks safety violations
among the nation’s commercial carriers.

The new system, which FAA is testing in Honolulu, will let agency inspectors and
officials share aircraft inspection and certification documents over an intranet.

FAA’s Flight Standards Service has 3,500 inspectors working at 110 field offices.
The Operations Specifications Subsystem (OPSS) will let inspectors more easily monitor
aircraft safety and certify the skills of flight crews and mechanics, said Dick Gordon,
FAA’s director of flight standards.

“The new OPSS system will save inspectors time by eliminating cumbersome
paperwork,” Gordon said. “It will significantly improve the support of the
FAA’s primary mission: public safety.”

The $3.5 million system will be ready next month, Gordon said.

OPSS will track the agency’s operations specifications documents (OpSpecs), which
are agreements between FAA and carriers that govern aircraft operation including crew
certification, aircraft maintenance and flight scheduling. Without the OpSpecs agreements,
Gordon said, inspectors cannot certify aircraft for flight.

“The new system takes an 80-hour process down to four hours,” said Mike
Genebach, vice president of BTG Inc. of Fairfax, Va. BTG designed the system under a
three-year contract with FAA.

The FAA inspectors generally inspect a commercial aircraft on site and note the
findings on notebook PCs.

The inspection includes a look at the plane’s various logs and the flight, repair
and maintenance records.

If need be, an FAA inspector can ground an aircraft. If it is unclear that a violation
has occurred, the inspector can return to the field office, access the OPSS database and
download a carrier’s OpSpecs documents.

If the OpSpecs agreement doesn’t contain a waiver for the safety requirement, the
inspector can then cite the air carrier with the violation.

“This is a great system,” said Earl Young, an FAA aviation safety inspector
who has tested the system. “It gives me greater flexibility and allows me more time
to do my job—inspect aircraft to ensure air safety.”

FAA’s field offices link to the agency’s regional offices via 56-Kbps to
256-Kbps connections. The regional offices link to FAA headquarters via a T1 backbone.

The field offices run Microsoft Windows NT on 200-MHz Hewlett-Packard Co. NetServer LX
Pro servers with 128M of RAM and 6G of RAID storage. Inspectors use 266-MHz Gateway Inc.
PCs with 32M of RAM and Microsoft Windows 95.

The servers in the regional offices and national headquarters are dual 200-MHz HP
NetServer LX Pros. The servers at the regional offices have 128M of RAM with 8G of RAID
storage; the headquarters server has 256M of RAM and 24G of RAID storage, Gordon said.

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