UK’s AEI To Address
Airline Maintenance Outsourcing At Conference
By Jim Douglas
September 5, 2011 - The 39th AEI (Aircraft Engineers
International) congress will be held in Istanbul from
the 5th – 9th October. This annual gathering
of aviation professionals offers Licensed Aircraft
Engineers a platform to voice their opinions and
concerns on current trends within civil aviation.
Top of the agenda is the growing concern that airline
outsourcing of maintenance is leading to a lack of
direct oversight and therefore control of maintenance
activities carried out on commercial passenger aircraft.
Although airlines are very keen to claim that “safety is
paramount”, increasing safety related incidents suggest
However credit where credit is due and AEI welcomes the
fact that after many years of warning about safety
standards within Europe, the European commission has
been an open secret for some time now that even large NAA’s have
allowed their oversight of airlines to become compromised. With
an increase in safety related findings uncovered within European
airlines by the SAFA (Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft)
program, the EU could no longer ignore the situation.
in April 2011 and to Germany’s embarrassment, the European Union
went public and published German related safety issues in
Europe’s airline operator blacklist. Regrettably however the
European Commission continues to move very slowly on the issue
of fines and penalties for breaches of aviation safety
regulations. The FAA has been fining US airline operators for
many years now and to great success.
Large fines and inevitable negative publicity acts as a strong incentive for airlines to ensure safety is truly paramount. Airlines in the United States are named and shamed by such actions and this can only be in the best interests of both the passenger and safety. Therefore the ongoing EU consultation into introducing a similar system into Europe is to be welcomed but there are concerns that the process has lost momentum leaving European Airlines able to continue to hide their safety lapses behind a cloak of secrecy.
AEI would like to see renewed vigor on this issue from European politicians and particularly DGTREN (European Department for Transport). AEI will also be raising their concerns about the constant attempts by airlines to undermine the Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers safety function.
are fighting the safety and standards war on the front line. Their job
is to ensure that every single operational aircraft is safe and fit for
the next flight. To ensure safety is monitored objectively, licensed
engineers are examined independently to their employers. On achieving a
successful examination result, a maintenance license is then issued.
This should provide the engineer with an element of independence from
the airline. The licensed engineer remains the only person authorized to
certify that an aircraft is ready to return into commercial service
On that basis one
would expect these safety professionals to be supported in their task of
ensuring that commercial aircraft are safe. Unfortunately airlines very
often take a different view and consider such safety professionals as a
cost factor or even burden. Although current aviation regulations
contain clear and specific references to the responsibilities of these
engineers, regulators including EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency)
have failed to enforce these requirements. The result is that airlines
have been able to severely reduce the licensed engineers influence. This
has already led to a significant increase in incidents. Congress will be
re-emphasizing to regulators and airlines alike the important role of
the licensed engineer within the aircraft maintenance realm.
issue previously raised by AEI that just will not go away is the non
reporting of aircraft defects and abuse of the minimum equipment list
(MEL). It is regrettably becoming common practice that commercial
airlines are supporting the reporting of aircraft technical defects not
when they occur but rather when convenient to rectify. The latest AEI
investigation reveals a disappointing deterioration of the situation.
Again there appears to be no real will from regulators to deal with this
issue and so Congress will be discussing plans to publish its own
With constant pressure applied by airline management to cut costs in order to apparently remain globally competitive, new worrying trends are beginning to appear. With airlines scrutinizing engineers terms and conditions there is a real risk of increased industrial action activity. Recent strike action has witnessed managers and pilots performing and signing for maintenance in order to ensure a flight takes place. Such behavior is ill advised as these actions quite simply do not ensure that safety standards are maintained.
This behavior has
even infiltrated one of Europe’s largest airlines who did not hesitate
to ignore European law by allowing maintenance to be certified by
unqualified staff in order to meet the flight schedule; this despite the
airline itself having suffered a number of accidents in recent years.
The fact that management support such activities apparently unconcerned
about the safety consequences raises serious concerns about the
integrity of the national authority’s oversight of the airline.
AEI therefore remains very concerned about airline behavior during strikes and especially the role of the National Authorities who should be extra vigilant when airline maintenance personnel are involved in industrial action. AEI has received evidence of illegal practices and will determine what further actions are to be taken during Congress.
It is AEI's view
that the travelling public should be fully aware that safety levels are
often significantly reduced during periods of industrial action.
Furthermore it is not acceptable for regulators to turn a blind eye to
malpractice during periods of industrial tension whilst those found to
be working outside the law should be punished.
Last but not least
is the issue of Whistle Blower protection. Although legal protection for
whistle blowers has been embedded in European law since 2008, there
remains a long path ahead before real protection takes effect.
Unfortunately the current situation reveals that the regulations are
only paid lip service leaving individuals concerned about safety wide
open to the consequences of speaking out which is often loss of
Although the EU has obviously made some effort on this issue a lot more is required before there is true transparency of safety related issues. It is completely unacceptable for brave individuals who are prepared to challenge airlines attempting to undermine safety to suffer consequences of any form.
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