PASS President Statement on Consumer Reports Investigation

My name is Tom Brantley and I am the president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), an AFL-CIO union that represents more than 11,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, including aviation safety inspectors. Joining me is Keith DeBerry, an aviation safety inspector and PASS national assistant.

We wanted to bring to your attention an important investigation examining air safety conducted by Consumer Reports in their March 2007 issue. Regarding the current state of air safety, in which most of the 20 large domestic airlines outsource more than half of their major maintenance work, the magazine asks the question, “An accident waiting to happen?”

We can answer that with a definite, “Yes.”

The magazine’s investigation found that more and more major air carriers are outsourcing important maintenance work to domestic and overseas facilities that are not certified, meaning that work performed at these facilities are subject to less oversight and fewer inspections. The FAA is increasingly relying on statistical-based analysis rather than physical inspections of repair facilities. As a result, the FAA is reducing the number of actual inspections of all repair facilities, as well as reducing airline oversight in general, causing the margin of safety to decrease.

Furthermore, since it is relinquishing much of the oversight to the airlines themselves, the FAA is allowing its workforce of inspectors to shrink through attrition. Currently, 50 percent of inspectors will be eligible for retirement in 2010.

The state of inspector staffing has been a major concern for some time. By direction of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences completed a study of the FAA’s staffing model for inspectors in 2006 and concluded that the FAA had no viable staffing standard for inspectors and that development of an entirely new model was necessary. Since the release of the study, the FAA has taken no action. Therefore, PASS is asking Congress to direct the FAA to develop a new inspector staffing model based on those recommendations.

The Consumer Reports investigation also emphasizes the fact that domestic and foreign repair stations are relying on workers that are not licensed and do not undergo proper security screenings, obviously presenting a major safety concern in addition to the inherent risk associated with using non-licensed workers.

With regards to contract repair facilities, PASS is asking that the FAA require all air carrier maintenance work only be performed by certificated repair stations. Non-certificated repair stations operate without the same regulatory requirements and oversight as certificated repair stations and are not required to have designated supervisors, inspectors, a quality control system or training programs. Congress can act on this by passing legislation to require that all air carrier maintenance work, whether done nationally or internationally, be performed only by certificated repair stations.

The investigation by Consumer Reports has helped bring to light many risks plaguing the safety of the aviation system. It is important that the flying public be made aware of the fact that the FAA is simply not doing the best job it possibly can to ensure safety. PASS is hopeful that Congress and the public are listening to these very serious warnings because it is clear that the FAA is not.

We will now open it up for questions.


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