FAA defends testimony of officials at panel's hearing

Agency spokeswoman says the testimony of two witnesses on safety oversight was "in no way misleading."

FAA is defending the testimony of two of three agency officials at a House Transportation and Infrastructure hearing last week after top committee Democrats accused all three of being "inaccurate and misleading."

FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nicholas Sabatini and James Ballough, director of the agency's flight standards service, "testified truthfully" at Thursday's hearing examining problems in the agency's safety oversight, an FAA spokeswoman said. "Their testimony was in no way misleading."

The spokeswoman, in a phone message, did not refer to the third FAA witness at the hearing -- Thomas Stuckey -- who reportedly has been reassigned from his prior duty as head safety inspector for Southwest Airlines.

The spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking clarification. She said that "there appears to be some misunderstanding around the dates and implementation" of the agency's Customer Service Initiative, which outlines new procedures for appealing actions by safety inspectors.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and Highways Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sent a letter to FAA and Transportation Secretary Peters Tuesday targeting testimony of Sabatini, Ballough and Stuckey regarding whether agency safety inspectors and managers were ordered "to conduct special meetings with all airlines, repair stations and other regulated entities to deliver and discuss" the CSI.

They are targeting assertions by the FAA officials that agency managers and inspectors had up to one year to deliver these new procedures to airlines and others regulated by the agency.

This contrasts with a February 2004 FAA memorandum directing that meetings were to be conducted within two months, the Democrats assert. "They tried to pull a fast one and we called them on it," an Oberstar spokesman said.