Airline Maintenance Comes Under Scrutiny

Last week, several House members introduced a bill to direct the FAA and Transportation Security Administration to impose tightened security rules and audits on foreign repair stations.

"Last year, Tulsa brought in $35 (million) to $40 million in revenue,'' Romano said. "For 2007, we're going for $90 million.''

American has said it plans to invest up to $100 million in its maintenance operations, a move made possible because it has returned to profit. Parent company AMR Corp. earned $81 million in the first quarter of this year, its fourth consecutive profitable quarter, following layoffs in 2003 and $8 billion in losses from 2000 to early 2006.

U.S. airlines are sensitive to charges that they risk cutting corners on safety when they expand outsourcing. But the carriers say the work can be, and is, done well by trained contractors at high-tech overseas hubs such as Germany and Singapore.

"Commercial airlines have utilized contract maintenance for decades,'' said Basil Barimo, vice president of operations and safety at the Air Transport Association, last month. ''Critics of contract maintenance argue that if airlines don't perform all of the maintenance themselves, then they can't be safe. Independent data from the National Transportation Safety Board proves them wrong.''

According to statistics cited by Barimo, maintenance-related accident rates by U.S. carriers have fallen from 0.5 per 100,000 departures in 1997 to virtually zero since 2004, even as outsourcing has soared. "U.S. air carrier accidents are rare and random,'' he said.

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