ORLANDO, Fla. --
Every day, 48,000 passengers leave Orlando International Airport on 450 flights on airlines they think are safe. Eyewitness News investigated a local company that may have improperly licensed hundreds of mechanics across the nation.
When passengers fly on a commercial airline, they assume the mechanics who repair and inspect the aircraft know what they’re doing. But during the 1990s, as many as 1,400 mechanics may have been improperly tested and certified at a small testing center in Sanford.
"The word spread through the grapevine that if you wanted to get a mechanics certificate, this would be an easy place to do it," said Gabe Bruno, a former FAA flight safety expert.
The Saint George Aviation Testing Center sold certificates without a hands-on test. One mechanic who was certified there went on to supervise work on the ill-fated Chalkes Ocean Airways Flight 101 in Miami. The wing of that aircraft snapped off during takeoff and the plane crashed.
The Federal Aviation Administration blamed the 2005 crash that killed 20 people on cracks that the mechanics did not detect. That supervisor failed an FAA re-test and lost his certificate the following year.
But when Eyewitness News reporter George Spencer asked the FAA what happened to all the other Saint George mechanics, a problem was discovered
. The FAA cannot find 400 of the mechanics who may have been improperly tested. They could still be working anywhere.
“Whenever someone touches a plane and they don’t know what they’re doing, that’s a ticking time bomb on the plane,” said FAA whistleblower Mary Schiavo.
The FAA did suspend the 400 certificates, but since the agency can’t find mechanics they or their airlines many not know they’re suspended.
“This is a good example of the government’s lack of accountability,” Bruno said.
The Saint George Aviation Testing Center was shut down and owner Anthony St. George went to prison for fraudulent testing. Eyewitness News found him now out of jail and living in Deltona. He admits he was negligent, but does not apologize.
“I made exceptions. I broke rules,” said St. George.
The FAA did find 1,000 of the Saint George mechanics and 80 percent who took a re-test passed. But critics have also questioned that re-test because, similar to the original Saint George exam, the re-test did not include hands-on testing.
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