Capt. Babbitt: The FAA’s Safety Hotline Needs Attention

By Robert Mark on January 30th, 2011

Ringing phone

The FAA Safety Hotline is a no-brainer of a customer-service tool built to offer users and aviation industry employees a chance to spill the beans about issues that affect all areas of flying safety. People can leave a name and phone number or tell the person who answers that they’d rather remain anonymous. Pilots, controllers, airline passengers … anyone who sees something that makes them question industry safety can make a free call to the folks in Washington.

I never had a need to use the hotline until last month, so I always assumed it worked fine.When I did call the hotline myself about a GA industry safety issue, I came away dissatisfied. Actually dissatisfied might be a bit of a misnomer. I could only be truly dissatisfied if someone had promised me something they failed to deliver. That never happened because no one from FAA ever responded to my voicemail. Not once in an entire month. That’s pretty frightening.

So was this situation a fluke, a random message that fell through the cracks or are the concerns of many others being ignored as well, I wondered?

How the System SHOULD Work

Normally, people simply dial up the Safety Hotline number (you can Google it) – 800-255-1111 – and choose from prompts designed to route the question to the right agency person. Strangely, the voicemail the day I called, said the hotline should have been attended during business hours. Even though I called back a few times on this Monday afternoon, no human ever answered. I left a message with my name, phone number and even an e-mail.

After a few weeks of no response, I went up to the FAA website and discovered another number that was also listed when I searched for Safety Hotline … 866-835-5322. Perhaps it’s a simple mistake, but I couldn’t find anyone at the agency with an explanation for this problem. All I know is that I never heard back from anyone.

After a user leaves their message, the folks in Washington are expected to determine the severity of the safety concern and pass it along to the appropriate regional office, in my case the Great Lakes HQ near O’Hare. After that, it might again be sent to either an Air Carrier District or Flight Standards District office (at Chicago DuPage Airport) depending upon the kind of operation. For me, at least, none of this happened either.

Since I have a few friends who still work for the agency, I asked around and someone gave me the name of an inspector at DuPage to chat with about the problem. He listened and we agreed to wait for the command to come down from DC before speaking again. A few weeks and a few inquiries made it pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen, so I asked the inspector if he’d just look into the problem since that was really the point in the first place … to address the safety problem, not fix the hotline. This all made perfect sense to me, but so far, that local inspector never responded to me again either.

Is this, my only attempt to pass along a safety concern to the agency a comedy of errors or symptomatic of another FAA system that sounds good on the surface but simply doesn’t work? I honestly have no idea. Maybe you do. Let me know here. I would have thought the agency handles hotlines the way industry does, by testing them every so often.

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so let’s not forget AOPA jetwhinethat we haven’t had a fatal air carrier accident in years here in the U.S. Unfortunately, GA doesn’t have even close to this airline-safety track record as the AOPA’s Nall Report’s 1,531 reviewed accidents number points out. 

In case you need the number though the FAA Safety Hotline number is 800-255-1111. If no one answers, try the 866 number … results may vary.

BTW, if you do hear from anyone at FAA, would you ask them to call me at work about a flight-safety issue that’s been gnawing at me for the past month? My office number is 847-864-9780. I promise I’ll call them back. Thanks.

Rob Mark, editor

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5 Responses to “Capt. Babbitt: The FAA’s Safety Hotline Needs Attention”

  1. Mike Says:

    This is pretty scary!

  2. Ex-FAA Says:

    I don’t think what you encountered is a fluke. The hotline should be a viable tool for reporting safety issues and less than stellar service. I have known of many cases where discrepancies have been reported and never followed up on. Those that even got a nod and a glance were swept under the rug. It certainly seems like the FAA goes through its work day with blinders on and earplugs in. If they don’t see it or hear it…….then it didn’t happen. Very disappointing.

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  4. john patson Says:

    Oh come now — you do not really think anyone listens to voicemail messages to “contact” phone numbers do you. Or reads the comments left at the “contact” sections of websites.
    People are not paid enough to look for extra work, and you can be sure the bosses never even answer the direct line phone, that is what secretaries are for.

  5. FAA: Credit Where it’s Due - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion Says:

    […] agency in a new way. Such was the case after the pieces I wrote about VFR Towers and also about the FAA Safety Hotline over the past […]

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