William McGee is a former airlines operations manager who has made a career as an aviation journalist, writing for Consumer Reports and other publications. He’s an FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher and in 2010 was named the sole consumer advocate to the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, formed to make recommendations to the Department of Transportation.
In an interview on NPR, McGee outlined what he has encountered in the outsourcing of Airline repairs and maintenance that is quite startling:
“Aircraft maintenance and repairs are also frequently outsourced — in some cases to unlicensed mechanics in China, Singapore, Mexico and El Salvador.”
“In my view, it’s a critical safety issue — the FAA’s lack of oversight of maintenance [in these countries]. It used to be, if an airline had a major maintenance facility, the FAA had an office, and an inspector could pop by anytime [to monitor the repairs]. Now, with work being done [overseas], I’ve had dozens of inspectors express their frustration that they can’t do their jobs. They’re [FAA] monitoring this work on an honor system.”
McGee also reported that mechanics have approached him with concerns about these planes flight status, and that when the planes return they are not ready to fly.
“Among the problems they’ve talked about are doors that were not sealed properly… There are problems with engines that have had to be shut down, and there are serious problems that have led to smoke in the cabin,” he says. “And any time you have smoke in the cabin, that could lead to catastrophe. These airplanes are coming back in conditions where additional work needs to be done to get them back online, in many cases.”
“The Federal Aviation Administration does not require airlines to list the subcontractors they work with. And finding out that information can be quite difficult…”Independent government organizations, including the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office, have gone to the airlines and said, ‘Where is the work being done and who’s doing it?.’ And the airlines, amazingly, have responded that they’re not clear, in some cases. To me, this is just mind-boggling. … Congressional testimony has shown that the FAA does not even have a full sense of where the work is being done.” says McGee.
Any of these problems can cause fatal results while flying at 30,000 feet, McGee went on to name two crashes that the FAA identified improper maintenance and repairs as a primary cause.
One of these crashes was ‘ValuJet Flight 592…
This from the NYTimes:
Valenzuela was a mechanic for the now-defunct airline maintenance contractor SabreTech, the focus of what became the first ever criminal prosecution over a U.S. airline crash.
The NTSB reported that allegedly Valenzuela helped gain certification on a set of cabin oxygen generators, falsifying the documentation to show that they had been properly removed and replaced. As a result of the generators being loaded on to ValuJet Flight 592 without the proper markings, safety caps, packaging and other safety measures, they played a key role in the fire which caused the crash.
It was also noted in the report that ValuJet failed to oversee the contractors involved to make sure full hazardous materials compliance.
McGee went on to say that the subcontracting companies that the repair jobs are outsourced to, in turn went on to outsource the job to another set of unqualified people not licensed in America or the Foreign countries where the work eventually takes place.
He added that in one instance, a surfboard shop was given the job to work on an Airplane body part that contained similar materials common to both surfboards and the Airplane’s parts. Fortunately the FAA caught that one before the suspect components were used in the maintenance of an airplane.
Even though the FAA maintains that there are industry standards that are being adhered to by the large Commercial Airplane companies, an extra level of problems arise when these large carriers contract smaller regional fliers to handle smaller pieces of the flight from one destination to another, via connecting flights.
Mr. McGee added that these smaller regional fliers do not observe the industry standards as well as the larger carriers and while the FAA says only one large flight went down in recent times, that being the Rockaways, New York crash which killed 265 passengers, crew and people on the ground, there were at least six crashes by the smaller regional carriers during that same time period.
It is now the industry norm to have connecting flights in certain areas, that are not handled with the main carrier’s fleet of planes.
It is no secret that President Reagan was instrumental in the aviation industry being gutted to its core, starting with his firing of Air Traffic Controllers. This single act gave the Airline industry the teeth it needed to shrink workers’ salaries and the industry’s safety oversight, in one sweep.
As a result, many pilots have had to deal with their salaries being reduced dramatically, while the rest of the industry has had to endure similar cutbacks, all to bolster stock prices of the Airlines. This no doubt has had an effect on the industry by them not being able to woo the more highly qualified pilots and mechanics, who prefer to earn better salaries in private jet companies in the US and globally. In such an environment, how many airlines are seeking to cut corners even further?
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