Maintenance Outsourcing

May 1, 2007
Why the ongoing trend?

You've probably heard about the continuing trend of airlines outsourcing their maintenance. But why is this happening? Let's look at two different viewpoints — those opposed to outsourcing, and those for it.


Airline mechanics. Outsourcing maintenance means less jobs. Sadly, gone are the days when working as a mechanic for the airlines meant you had reached the pinnacle of your career. These days, pink slips and concessions seem to be the name of the game.

FAA employees. Tom Brantley, national president of PASS, the union representing FAA employees, recently testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Aviation, addressing FAA oversight of oursourced air carrier maintenance. PASS says there are not enough FAA inspectors to properly oversee repair stations.

PASS also says it is especially difficult to properly oversee foreign repair stations. It states that in some countries, there is so much red tape to go through to enter the country, the repair station has about three weeks to prepare for a "surprise" inspection. By the time FAA inspectors arrive, the inspection amounts to little more than a choreographed show for the FAA.

I asked Brantley why the FAA just doesn't pull the repair station certificates if FAA inspectors aren't allowed prompt and thorough access to perform true spot checks. His response? Any certificate actions of foreign repair stations would have to go through U.S. diplomatic channels. And those civil servants try to avoid any possible diplomatic strains that might be caused by FAA certificate action.

I guess we wouldn't want to create a diplomatic crisis for something so trivial as foreign repair stations having to abide by the same regulatory and safety oversight that U.S. repair stations are subjected to would we?


Airline executives, board members, and stockholders. Money is driving outsourcing. If it weren't lucrative to send maintenance overseas, the airlines wouldn't be doing it. But how much does a major accident cost?

Travelers. Through their pocketbooks, travelers are choosing to purchase the lowest-priced airline tickets available. By default, this puts them in the "for" column, since airline tickets are priced according to this lowest-price purchasing mentality. The airlines continue to compete in a cutthroat way to gain and maintain market share.

So, it seems there are two reasons for the oursourcing trend. One is the almighty dollar. The other is an apparent graveyard mentality of many within the government, FAA, airlines, and the flying public. If there are not planes falling out of the sky and people dying, there must not be a problem.

And short of mass graveyards, how can the culture of outsourcing be changed?

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

Joe Escobar