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News Release

May 14, 1998
Sandia lends its 'accidents are unacceptable' expertise to FAA's new airliner inspection program

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sandia National Laboratories' role in helping the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) design a systematic new approach to aircraft safety was highlighted during a May 13 Washington, D.C., news conference. The FAA expects the new program to help its team of some 3,500 airline inspectors more effectively track safety trends and spot problem areas in the nation's fleet of aging commercial aircraft.

During the news conference, Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey announced the FAA's plan to adopt the new inspection program, called the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), beginning this fall for the nation's 10 largest passenger carriers. A panel of experts, including FAA safety inspectors and Larry Ellis, a Sandia data and decision support systems expert, took part in the news conference.

Sandia has worked with the FAA since 1996 to redesign its airline inspection program to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly complex commercial aircraft industry. Traditionally air carriers have received mandatory, scheduled inspections and additional discretionary inspections by assigned FAA inspectors that focused on the airlines' compliance with federal regulations. This non-systematic approach relies heavily on the expertise of the individual inspectors.

Lending its expertise in systems engineering, system safety, and quality improvement derived from decades of nuclear weapons work, Sandia helped the FAA design a more systematic, data-driven approach to airline safety surveillance that is the basis for ATOS. Keeping the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile reliable, safe, and secure is Sandia's primary U.S. Department of Energy mission.

"In both Sandia's business and the FAA's business, accidents are unacceptable," says Roger Hartman of Sandia's Transportation Surety Center. "We've been able to lend our expertise in systems safety and quality improvement based on decades of applying those principles to high-consequence engineering problems such as nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor safety."

As part of ATOS, each air carrier will have a comprehensive surveillance plan tailored specifically for its operations and will be assigned its own Certificate Management Team (CMT) to carry out the surveillance program. In addition to the local inspectors, geographic inspectors will receive training on their assigned carrier's policies and procedures.

Continuous improvement teams will continually evaluate the effectiveness of the ATOS process and recommend necessary changes.

The FAA plans to phase ATOS in over the next three years. This fall, some 900 CMT inspectors will be trained by the FAA in ATOS procedures. Then in October, ATOS Phase 1 will be implemented for the 10 largest U.S. passenger carriers, as well as any new carrier certified by the FAA. Other carriers will be introduced to the system by October 1999.

The FAA hopes ATOS will "take the agency beyond the role of enforcer and foster a higher level of safety through more focused, extensive inspections tailored to each individual air carrier," according to an FAA news release. (More information about ATOS is available at the FAA's ATOS web site: http://www.faa.gov/avr/afs/atos.)

"By the end of this year," says the FAA's Garvey, "ATOS will begin to raise the bar above minimum compliance with aviation safety standards and will help us achieve our Safer Skies goal of reducing accidents by 80 percent over the next 10 years."

Sandia is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory operated by Lockheed Martin Corporation. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has research and development programs contributing to national defense, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Media contact:
John German, jdgerma@sandia.gov, (505) 844-5199

FAA media contact:
Kathryn Creedy, (202) 267-8521

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