For instance, when Ron Wojnar, the FAA manager who gave the go ahead to grant Eclipse the Production Certificate was asked about the 13 open items at the time of the issuance of the PC, he was able to blunt the inquiry by saying, "well a couple of the items were related to FAA action items, things that the FAA needed to do, like schedule an 18 month quality audit."
But where was Perry Mason to ask, "What about the other 11 items? How many of those were flight safety critical?"
Or John Hickey, Director, FAA Certification, justifying the date set for the Eclipse type certificate on September 30 because an agency goal was to certify a Very Light Jet during that fiscal year.
Where was Perry Mason to ask, "John, at the end of September your agency goal was to have a Very Light Jet certified. Why push the Eclipse program? You already had a Very Light Jet certified, and probably with no IOU's, the Cessna Mustang three weeks earlier."
Both sides made their points largely unchallenged. Nicholas Sabatini, FAA Associate Administrator for Safety under oath could say:
"I believe the Aircraft was properly certified. I believe that the aircraft meets FAA safety standards and I have the results of a Special Certification Review Team to back me up on that."
Of course the Special Review Team did not review the complete certification, they only spot checked certain areas during their 30-day rush to judgment but nobody reminded Sabatini of that fact.
Or when John Hickey testified:
"On the date of September 30, the FAA team made two determinations. They determined the Eclipse 500 had complied to all appropriate regulations and it was in a condition for safe operation."
Nobody asked him about IOU's that even Vern Raburn acknowledged existed at the time of the original TC.
OK, so it wasn't a trial - it was a hearing. Both sides made their case with little or no cross examination and it matters little as to what was said in the hearing. It was only a small window as to the discovery obtained during the months of investigation by Scovel.
Only a few witnesses testified. Scovel talked to many more as did the staff from Oberstar's committee. And what they heard painted a very ugly picture, not only of the FAA's transgressions but of the operation of Eclipse which was not part of the inquiry.
It was little wonder then when the presiding chairman of the subcommittee Congressman Jerry Costello opened the hearing with a serious indictment:
"I am extremely disappointed that the FAA again lacks the ability to oversee its programs, in this case its certification programs. Unfortunately, this hearing will expose an agency that is as interested in promoting aviation and befriending manufacturers as it is in carrying out its number one responsibility of protecting safety and the flying public.
It is inexcusable and unacceptable to ignore rules, regulations and standard practices to accommodate those you have a responsibility to regulate -- when you have people's lives in your hands! This Subcommittee, the Congress and the American people entrust the FAA to uphold the highest level of safety. Unfortunately, the FAA conduct regarding the certification of the EA-500 makes one lose confidence in the agency."
Or Chairman Oberstar's written transcript:
"In the Eclipse case, it appears that when design deficiencies were identified that appeared to be non-compliant with FAA certification requirements, senior FAA management became personally involved, overruled lower-level engineers and inspectors, worked diligently to find "work-arounds," to find "alternative approvals and rationales and techniques." and to accept IOU's for later compliance. In many ways, the certification process in this case was conducted "backwards" from the clear intent and requirements of FAA certification regulations. Instead of certifying on the basis of safety alone, FAA senior management appeared to be highly motivated to find ways to explain why design deficiencies identified by FAA engineers and inspectors as "unsafe" were indeed "flawed" but they were still "acceptable for certification" by simply changing the approval criteria."
Both chairs had heard enough in advance to convince them to hold the hearing and get the evidence into a public forum. The written statements by the Inspector General, DiPaola and the four safety inspectors from Ft Worth contain far more detail and disturbing accusations then what they could state in their brief oral summaries. Fortunately, their written transcripts are on record for everyone to see.
Since there was no trial, there was no verdict. Had there been one, John Hickey would have been terminated on the spot and Nicholas Sabatini certainly sent on to early retirement. But that is not the way Washington works. Congressman Oberstar has been around Washington a few years. He knows where all the levers are, how to pull them and when. As one who controls the FAA's budget his influence is enormous.
Sabatini too, has been around long enough to read the tea leaves and will probably depart on his own. When? Soon, but not too soon to look guilty. Shortly thereafter, Hickey might feel that fatherly arm of Congressman Oberstar around his shoulder and hear Oberstar's soothing words, all while being escorted to the door. "Goodbye John, you did a heck of a job."
A good friend put this together for me, this past week. Clearly, DayJet's effective closure is another matter which merits a full headline, but this is the Eclipse Aviation Critic blog, so I thought the DOT IG hearing merited more focus.
I was otherwise engaged. I have been in very brief contact with some of you, who know why. My father, Brian Price, died suddenly while on holiday in France last Monday morning, the 15th of September. To quote the final paragraph of what I said at his funeral yesterday:-
"Let us all remember Brian in our hearts and our prayers. He was a rare individual, a loving husband, a kind and caring father, an intelligent and skilful lawyer and a great friend to us all.
May he rest in peace."