Now it’s getting serious; United Airlines outsourcing protested

Late last year Congress introduced new requirements for foreign repair stations which are included in the FAA Reauthorization Bill by amendment (HR 2881 amd.(3)). To date, however, the bill has only been passed in the House and sent to the Senate. Some of the problems addressed involve such things as drug and alcohol testing and background checks as a requirement for employment. Believe it or not, in most European Union countries these tests are illegal and prohibited due to privacy and anti-discrimination laws. In addition, the EU and FAA have been negotiating a bilateral aviation safety agreement that delegates the FAA oversight and inspection function of EU Part 145 repair stations to the EU (EASA) organization. We will have given up the oversight function in those countries to the EU, even though they work on U.S.-registered aircraft. However, this agreement is not yet fully implemented.

Quality control?
True, the number of licensed overseas repair shops has more than doubled since 1994. However, our FAA just does not have the personnel to keep tabs on the quality of work produced by all these locations. Many repair facilities used by our air carriers are not certificated or routinely inspected by the FAA. If the traveling public were aware of the use of noncertificated repair facilities there would be a outcry regarding ... what price safety? In the past, these noncertificated shops were used for minor maintenance jobs and were only used to perform significant work in emergencies. This is not the situation today. It is reported by the Department of Transportation that many now perform scheduled maintenance critical to the airworthiness to the aircraft.

Having noncertificated facilities (overseas) performing critical maintenance is an important issue for FAA to consider. These shops are not required to have system quality control features and oversight that are required for airline operations and certificated facilities. They are not required to have inspectors or supervisors. The only requirement is that a single FAA-licensed mechanic signs off on the work of many non-licensed mechanics. Remember, the low bidder usually gets the work!

Relevant home front news
On the home front, just recently our FAA was rebuked in Congress by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN, and Chairman of the Transportation Committee) for failing to give proper inspection oversight to Southwest Airlines, one of our major air carriers. Oberstar reported that Southwest was allowed to fly past mandatory deadlines with serious safety violations in 46 of its aircraft. These violations included failure to perform Airworthiness Directives. (Remember, failure to perform ADs can be a crime!) In all fairness to SWA, it did disclose the problems to FAA personnel and FAA had knowledge of the problems but allowed it to continue to operate the aircraft under an agreement. The LOI (letter of investigation) seeks $10 million in civil penalties (fines). The irate Congressman stated further that, ”FAA needs to clean house from top to bottom … They need to hire new inspectors. They need to give them a safety mission. They need to install a new safety compliance attitude among their inspection workforce.”

The point here is that Oberstar seems to say that the FAA can’t handle the serious oversight problems right here at home, never mind at overseas maintenance facilities. Therefore, why are we allowing work to go overseas where there is less or nonexistent oversight inspections by the FAA?

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an A&P certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and a USAF veteran. Please send your comments or suggestions to aerolaw@att.net.

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