It has been reported that nine major U.S. airlines are farming out aircraft maintenance at twice the rate of four years ago and now hire outside contractors for more than 70% of major work. Contractors located in foreign countries handled one-quarter of the outsourced maintenance. The Transportation Department’s inspector general found that U.S. oversight of repair facilities is lagging. Investigators said the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to closely track how much maintenance is outsourced and where it is performed. The report concluded that even though the FAA has taken steps to improve, “the agency still faces challenges in determining where the most critical maintenance occurs and ensuring sufficient oversight.”
As a result of the airlines’ effort to lower costs, heavy airframe maintenance is being shifted from in-house mechanics and engineers to hundreds of repair companies in the United States, Canada, Mexico and countries in Central America and Asia. Nine major airlines examined by the inspector general outsourced 71% of their heavy air frame maintenance ‘ repairs and servicing to an aircraft’s body, wings and tail ‘ in 2007, compared with 34% in 2003. Also, 27% of that work was performed at foreign repair facilities.
The airlines examined in the report were AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, America West Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. The inspector general says American Airlines, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, was not included because it handles most maintenance in-house. The FAA relies heavily on the airlines ‘ and the repair facilities themselves ‘ to make sure outsourced repairs meet the air safety standards and requirements of the individual airlines.
The FAA requires each repair station to have a government inspection at least once a year. But, the report says those inspections often are not being conducted by agency inspectors most familiar with standards and requirements of the airline whose planes are being repaired. As much as five years lapsed between visits to some major maintenance facilities by inspectors assigned to individual airlines. Inspectors not assigned to a specific airline may not be familiar with the special maintenance requirements of that airline’s planes, which are often customized.
The report cited a foreign facility, which repairs engines for an unidentified airline that had not been inspected by an FAA inspector assigned to that airline in five years, a period in which the facility had repaired 39 of the air carrier’s engines. That is totally unacceptable and is impossible to understand.
The report recommends that the FAA require airlines to provide more complete information on the extent and location of outsourced repairs, ensure air carriers and repair stations are better able to spot and correct problems, and improve the documentation of inspection results. The FAA agrees it needs to do more and actually agreed with all of the inspector general’s recommendations. The agency says it has procedures in place that “already address some of the recommendations,” and “have some projects in progress that address others.”
It appears the FAA has a long way to go toward resolving the outsourcing issue. Many believe the FAA doesn’t have enough inspectors to adequately oversee all the repair stations and their subcontractors. This is especially true as it relates to foreign repair stations. The lack of oversight is said to extend beyond the adequacy of repairs to background checks of employees.
Source: Associated Press
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