FAA Service Difficulty Reports


Source Federal Aviation Administration
File Size 1.4 GB (all years)
Dates Covered 1990-mid 2016 (contact NICAR for archived data from 1974)
Cost Snapshot

  • Nonmembers $225
  • Members $75
Categories: ,


Service Difficulty Reports (SDR) consist of maintenance incidents collected by the FAA for the purpose of tracking repair problems with private, commercial and military aircraft and aircraft componentry. They are largely self-reported by the aircraft owners. The data is reported by tail number and aircraft serial number, so it is possible to trace the maintenance history of a particular airplane with this database.NICAR provides the data in two ways: As a one-time purchase or, for subscribers, regularly updated. Currently, this is done weekly; note that there is some lag at the FAA so not all reports will appear immediately.

The data lists detailed problems of individual airplanes including a 750-character text field that explains the problem and sometimes the airports involved. It also tracks problems with individual engines or other components.

But the data is considered incomplete, even by the FAA. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that as much as 90 percent of the records may be missing. Many commercial airlines fail to report regularly and some smaller airlines, non-airline commercial aircraft and private aircraft operators seldom report difficulties. Cuts to the FAA budget have gutted its inspection staff and, consequently, there has been little enforcement of reporting rules. Also, reporting requirements differ with the type of operation. Because of differences in reporting, it is difficult to compare repair histories between companies.

Record layouts and samples of this database

Schema (sdr.pdf) 295.9 KB
Main documentation (README.TXT) 9.5 KB
Record layout (LAYOUT.TXT) 54.2 KB
Data sample (sdr00_12_sample.xls) 140.5 KB

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    The fall 1994 crash of USAir 427 prompted the Seattle Times to launch an investigation into Boeing 737 jetliners. The rudder system on the 737’s can sometimes malfunction and make the airplane dangerously difficult to control. A USAir 737 crashed near Pittsburgh last September, killing all 132 passengers. United has accelerated replacement of a 737 rudder-system part in which investigators have found defects.
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    This USA Today analysis of 22 years of crash data and several dozen interviews shows that the number of commercial airplane crashes caused by pilot error has decreased substantially. However, plenty of crashes are still occurring, they are just caused by poor maintenance. The federal government required minimal training for mechanics after they’ve been licensed, and the airplane industry often opposes improvements in maintenance because they are too costly. The article has a lot of good statistics about airplane crashes.