Marshall S. Filler, managing director and general counsel for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) in Alexandria, VA, says the safety record and safety responsibilities of repair stations have not changed and that repair stations have expertly supported the aviation industry for many decades.
“Today, as the industry continues to build on its remarkable safety record, air carriers are relying on contracted maintenance as a critical component in continuing to ensure high-quality workmanship while controlling costs,” he explains. “Unfortunately, it appears that labor organizations’ economic agendas, and not actual safety problems, are influencing much of the media coverage of contract maintenance.”
Across the Potomac River from ARSA, a different viewpoint is offered by Linda Goodrich, regional vice president representing FAA safety inspectors for the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) organization in Washington, D.C.
“Safety is going to the lowest bidder and to a certain degree, it’s not unreasonable,” she says. “When the flying public wants $49 fares, something has to give in another area to grant that wish.”
Goodrich continues, “Our responsibility is to monitor safety. We have seen what I consider serious degradation in safety because of the wheeling and dealing on the maintenance side. We don’t have enough controls in place to monitor who is doing what and how.”
Span of control
“The span of control is out of control,” warns Goodrich. “We can do very little oversight already and we’re losing more people.”
Goodrich explains that an inspector follows the bouncing ball from location to location. Safety inspectors are obligated by law not to impact carrier schedules. Quick turnarounds cause chaos with this obligation.
“You look at the thousands of flights per day and we’re able to get on about maybe 1 percent of those flights,” says Goodrich. “We also don’t have the budget to stay overnight so whatever flights we take, we have to make sure we can get back home at the end of the day.”
“It’s the incredible integrity of maintenance personnel that is keeping aircraft in the air,” says Goodrich, who is also an A&P and IA. “They do a fantastic job.”
Inspector General’s report reactions
The Inspector General’s report FAA Safety Oversight of an Air Carrier Industry in Transition from June 3, 2005 states that the FAA is expected to lose some 300 safety inspectors this year and has asked for only 97 inspectors for FY 2006. (Note: The Inspector General’s report can be viewed at www.oig.dot.gov/item.jsp?id=1575.)
“FAA is being told that they cannot budget for more inspectors and they haven’t justified need,” says Goodrich. “They are looking to designees to do the job.
“There were 2,727 field inspectors as of Oct. 1, 2004,” she says. “We’re probably a good 200 below that right now. They are attempting to get rid of 300 this year and 200 more in 2006. The FAA has asked for 97 inspectors but has no idea whether they will get them. There’s no more money so they [FAA] can only allow people to leave.”
Goodrich says that the QA control system is the carrier and certified repair station. “We are only interested in compliance with systems,” she says. “We are at the point to have them provide their own self-policing.”
Brinkley concurs, “FAA is giving the operators more and more ‘self-policing’ of the FARs,” he says, “but I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing.”
Brinkley adds that back in the “old days,” the FAA had to sign off on all major repairs and alterations and all annual inspections of aircraft as the aircraft fleet was small and somewhat localized. When the tasks got too big, the FAA came up with “designees” to take some of that load. This was the origin of the Inspection Authorization (IA) system.
“FAA delegating responsibility and authority to operators is not new,” says Brinkley.
Association provides perspectives on contract maintenance
The union representing FAA inspectors concerned about outsourcing trend.
ARSA testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security regarding the oversight of foreign contract maintenance.