A Tale of Two Accidents
Updates - Lessons for Technicians?
By Stephen P. Prentice
Sometimes it pays to step back and take a look at what happened during the investigation of some accidents and their affect on maintenance in general and technicians and management in particular.
The big one
Alaska Airlines has been the most visible whipping boy for attack by the FAA and the Justice Department since the unfortunate accident with the MD80's worn stabilizer jackscrew that appears to have jammed. The date was January 31, 2000. These mechanical devices are common inspection items for many general aviation technicians. The flap actuator jackscrew located in the right wing of many Cessnas for example, is a regular inspection and lubrication item. Many Jet Commanders had their stab jack screw actuators replaced in a recent campaign due to fears of their jamming.
On the one hand, FAA has pawed over the airline's paperwork for what seems a long time while on the other hand, FBI and Justice Department drones have focused on the maintenance base at Oakland. Technicians' loyalty has been severely compromised and they don't know from one day to the next what might be coming from the Government. There have been some conclusions but very little action so far by FAA. The FBI and Justice Department still continue their investigation at the maintenance base in Oakland.
In response, the company said they established and hired a new Vice President-Safety, and retained a group of people to do the customary in-house "safety audit."
So far, the newspapers have reported that maintenance oversight at Alaska was sorely absent and that specific mandated programs were not in effect. A regulatory requirement for a continuous airworthiness surveillance system was supposed to be in place in order to detect maintenance problems before they got out of hand. (FAR 121.373). Such a program appeared to exist in name only. Where was the oversight on this program by FAA's own inspectors during all this time? Now, FAA proposes to rotate inspectors on shifts through air carriers to insure complacency has not set in.
However, the airline's certificate to operate has not been seriously threatened so far and no fines have been paid. One lower management person has been forced off the job and two inspector/technicians have certificate actions pending. The accident of course, as we all should recall, resulted in the loss of 88 lives.
Now all the technicians at the airline know is what they read in the papers and what they are told by the employer. The Feds tell you nothing as a rule. But technicians do have recourse.
It was bound to happen. When technicians lose confidence in the company and the company throws barbs at technicians, what can they do? You got it. They can sue the company for, among other things, defamation.
There is nothing to stop this mutually destructive fighting that will ultimately weaken employee-employer relationships and might destroy a company. If the company throws rocks at the maintenance department then what can be expected?
The technician concerned filed a $20 million lawsuit (the amount is really not relevant) against the employer for suggesting on their web site that he was incompetent. He was labeled as a "disgruntled employee," which may or may not have been true. Many employees are disgruntled all the time, but this does not mean they are incompetent.
Labor relations should be kept close to the vest within a company and not published on a web site. The issue is a complicated one and room for compromise and discussion cannot be maintained without flexibility.