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FAA Faces Challenges In Oversight Over Foreign And Domestic Repair Stations
By Eddy Metcalf

May 7, 2013 - Over the past 15 years, major U.S. air carriers increased spending for contract maintenance by nearly $2.7 billion. Industry experts expect this trend to continue as airlines increasingly attempt to cut maintenance costs and maximize profitability (see American Airlines To Outsource Aircraft Maintenance To China). Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for overseeing nearly 4,800 aircraft repair stations used worldwide by U.S air carriers.

At the request of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) performed an evaluation on the FAA to determined whether the FAA’s oversight includes accurate and timely risk assessments of repair stations, and evaluated the effectiveness of FAA’s oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations.

Last Week (OIG) issued their final report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) risk-based oversight of aircraft repair stations. OIG found that while the FAA developed a risk assessment process to aid repair station inspectors in identifying areas of greatest concern, its oversight continues to emphasize completing mandatory inspections instead of targeting resources where they are needed based on risk.

Less than half of its inspection elements are evaluated based on risk, and foreign repair stations are not inspected using a risk-based system. In addition, the FAA’s oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations lacks effective, standardized processes for identifying deficiencies and verifying that they have been addressed.

As a result, OIG found numerous systemic discrepancies at the repair stations they visited during their review. The FAA concurred with all nine of their recommendations to enhance the Agency’s oversight of repair stations, citing its plans to implement a new oversight system, the Safety Assurance System (SAS) in fiscal year 2015, and proposing actions to address OIG concerns in the interim. OIG is requesting additional information or alternative actions for three recommendations to ensure adequate oversight until SAS is complete.



Aeronautical Repair Station Association reported OIG’s most important finding was the FAA has been more focused on mandatory inspections than shifting limited oversight resources to high risk areas. The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), which represents aviation maintenance and manufacturing companies, has long echoed concerns expressed in the report and worked with regulators and lawmakers to improve the quality of oversight.

To improve regulation of the aviation maintenance industry, ARSA believes the OIG should ensure the FAA issues regulations in strict accordance with statutes; provides clear, concise guidance material to its workforce and the public; and enforces the regulations uniformly and consistently. ARSA Executive Vice President Christian A. Klein said “Shortcomings at the FAA don’t translate into safety deficiencies in the industry. Regardless of whether or not regulators are looking over their shoulders, our members have an overwhelming business incentive to achieve the highest levels of safety possible.”

Back in November the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) stated - For more than 25 years the IAM has been the leading critic of federal repair station regulations. Current regulations create risky incentives for US carriers to outsource aircraft maintenance to poorly regulated facilities abroad that do not meet the same rigid FAA safety requirements as do facilities in the United States. The poorly crafted regulations have resulted in the loss of thousands of highly skilled US mechanic jobs. 

“IAM represented aircraft mechanics have set the gold standard in aircraft maintenance. They ensure the airworthiness of aircraft and enable people to travel the world safely,” said Sito Pantoja. “This standard is at risk as the outsourcing of critical safety-sensitive aircraft repairs has become the operating norm in an environment where air carriers 'forum shop' for cheap labor costs and lax regulations.” 

“It’s up to the FAA to close loopholes in air safety regulations that incentivize US airlines to outsource aircraft maintenance overseas,” said Pantoja. “We strongly urge the FAA to adopt the changes offered by the IAM.”

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