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Back in 2001, terrorists flew U.S. airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing some 3,000 people and causing countless billions in damage. According to an investigation by Kelly Carr and Jaimi Dowdell of the Boston Globe, the Federal Aviation Administration listed two of those airliners still active four years later in 2005. This was hardly the FAA’s only lapse. A TWA cargo plane crashed in Chicago but the FAA failed to cancel its registration until 2006. This happened because the FAA fails to vet its own records
“The FAA doesn’t see itself as an active policeman of the registry,” Carr told CBS news, “So when information comes in, they make sure information is there, but they don’t vet the information. So they’re really operating on the honor system of people who are registering aircrafts, and also on pilots’ licenses.” And if someone lies and has ill intent, “the FAA says that they’re not going to vet — they’re not checking.”
In 2004, three years after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a law requiring a photo ID on a pilot’s license. According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, “The Department of Transportation is committed to keeping the traveling public safe. This is an important safeguard to help make sure individuals can’t pose as pilots, whatever their intentions.” At that time, the only photo on a pilot’s license was of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 2010, nine years after 9/11 and six years after the photo ID law was passed, the FAA proposed a rule requiring student pilots to have a photo ID on their pilot’s licence. The FAA did not release the rule until January, 2016.
And so on. So it’s pretty clear that bureaucratic lethargy puts the public at risk but few if any FAA bosses lost their jobs over the security lapses. For further reading on the FAA, see “The Failure of Federal Aviation Administration Regulation,” by Paul Cleveland and Jared Price.
To be fair, the FAA is not the only inept and irresponsible federal bureaucracy. Back in 2009, Chesley Sullenberger landed his stricken airliner in the Hudson River, with no loss of life. Some National Transportation Safety Board bosses charged that Sullenberger should have turned back to La Guardia instead of attempting the water landing.