Report Says Airlines' Financial Woes Could Lead To Safety
A new report by the Department of Transportation Inspector
General says the FAA is falling behind in trying to keep up with
airline maintenance -- especially as carriers hurting for cash are
more and more prone to cut corners.
Especially worrisome to the IG was the increasing trend of
outsourcing airline maintenance. Given FAA budget cuts, the report
criticized the FAA for only inspecting three of the five most
The IG report also took the FAA to task for failing to properly
monitor low-cost carriers.
The FAA reacted angrily to the report. Spokesman Greg Martin
said the IG "vastly underestimates the enormous effort by FAA and
industry to achieve the historic safety record that we have."
Martin was quoted by the Wall Street Journal.
Martin said the air travel system is as safe as it's ever been
-- pointing out there hasn't been a fatal mishap involving a major
carrier in the past three-and-a-half years.
Martin also said the FAA is certainly aware of the outsourcing
trend. Between 2002 and 2004, the amount of airline maintenance
sent to outside contractors rose from 47-percent to 53-percent --
and it's still rising.
But the FAA is factoring outsourced maintenance into its
monitoring program, making sure outside shops do as good a job as
the airlines' own mechanics.
Still, up to 90-percent of outsourced maintenance work is
performed at night and, according to the audit, FAA inspectors
spend only three-percent of their total time conducting after-hours
inspections. The FAA said that figure is more like ten-percent.
"Whatever issues may or may not be
impacting the FAA's safety oversight, FAA inspections are secondary
to the robust quality-assurance programs the airlines adhere to in
overseeing all maintenance work," ATA spokesman Jack Evans told the
But the financial pressures are indeed changing the safety
culture at airlines, according to the IG report.
"We found instances in which air carriers operating with short
gate-turnaround time did not adhere to required operating
procedures," the report said.
As an example, the Journal reported, three aircraft at one LCC
were found to have a total of 16 maintenance discrepancies that
weren't on the logbooks. The report said the LCC was waiting until
the last flight of the day to address the issues so that there
would be no flight delays.
The report found that, after another carrier shut down a major
maintenance facility and outsourced the work to a company with
known safety issues, the FAA failed to step up its inspection
regime or reassess the risks.