FAA Repeats Mistakes Of The Past <




FAA Repeats Mistakes Of The Past

By Daniel Guevarra



July 31, 2009, The FAA has revoked and will retest close to two thousand aircraft mechanics as a result of a long investigation into the testing practices of Tobias Aerospace Services of San Antonio, Texas. These mechanics include those working in the airline industry, manufacturers and repair stations.

The FAA reported that they became concerned in the fall of 2008, when they noticed an unusually high success rate of students passing the FAA mechanics exams from Tobias Aerospace Services. Further investigations revealed Bryan Tobias, an FAA designated mechanical examiner (DME), was involved in a scheme to profit from allowing unqualified students from around the world to take the FAA mechanics exam and pass with flying colors. Students came from as far as Latin and South America and Asia. DME examiners typically charge  $550 to $900 per student to give an exam which may include the written, oral and practical exam.


In general, to become a certified power plant or airframe mechanic, you must attend a 170 FAR part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School and upon graduation take a FAA written exam.  After passing the written exam you then document between 18 and 30 work months under supervision of a certified mechanic. At which time you can take the oral and practical exam for licensing and it must be done in English.   

Michael Zenkovich, a FAA flight standards regional manager, indicated that in the course of the FAA reviewing applicant applications FAA inspectors began to question the true qualifications of the applicants.

It has been stated by individuals close to the investigations that an exam that would typically take up to eight hours, in many cases, would last only a few minutes at Tobias Aerospace Services and in some cases the exam was given in Spanish. Bryan Tobias and Tobias Aerospace Services certification has been revoked by the FAA and the companyís website has been taken down. 

At present the FAA is only requiring those students at Tobias Aerospace Services to take a partial retest rather than retaking the written, oral and practical exam. Some are saying the FAA is not going far enough and is repeating the same mistakes it made in the St. George Aviation scandal.   


Back in the mid 1990ís, St. George Aviation, out of Sanford, Florida, was running a licensing mill in which unqualified students could obtain an FAA Aircraft and Power Plant (A&P) license. St. George Aviation had licensed over 2000 unqualified students many of which could not speak English. In May 1999, the owner of St. George and an employee were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in federal court in relation to their administration of the A & P mechanic exam and issuance of A & P mechanic certificates between 1995 and 1999. 

In a deposition with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Whistleblower Gabriel D. Bruno (see report), former Manager of the Orlando Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), stated the St. George investigation conducted by DOT OIG revealed that approximately 2,000 mechanics were certified by St. George under these fraudulent conditions and needed to be re-examined. Following the OIG investigation, the Orlando FSDO developed a program to identify and re-examine those mechanics. Re-examinations began in 1999, and according to Mr. Bruno, there was a high rate of failure among the mechanics re-tested. Some simply relinquished their certificates without undergoing re-examination. Mr. Bruno alleged that in the spring of 2001, Southern Region FSD, ordered him to terminate the re-examination program, because the Southern Regionís legal division lacked adequate resources to process the revocations of fraudulent certificates. Over Mr. Brunoís objections, all re-examinations were terminated.

On December 19, 2005, about 2:39 PM, a Grumman Turbo Mallard (G-73T) amphibious airplane, N2969, operated by Flying Boat, Inc., doing business as Chalk's Ocean Airways flight 101, crashed into a shipping channel adjacent to the Port of Miami, Florida, shortly after takeoff from the Miami Seaplane Base enroute to Bimini.  Onboard were 2 flight crewmembers and 18 passengers. All 20 people aboard the airplane were killed. 15 witnesses were interviewed, most reported that the airplane's right wing separated from the rest of the airplane in flight, that smoke or fire came from the wing or a fireball in the sky.

FAA documents indicated a mechanic who was employed employee for Chalk's Ocean Airways was certified as a mechanic by St. George Aviation. On Dec. 19, 2005, three days after the crash, the FAA gave the mechanic a certification exam in which he failed and a second test was administered and again the mechanic failed.

On July 10, 2009, the FAA ordered the emergency revocation of Peter Sassonís airman maintenance certificate. Sasson, an FAA certified mechanic, admitted to OIG agents that between approximately July to October 2008, while a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) of West Mifflin, PA, Sasson systematically breached the schoolís computer database and falsified grades and FAA regulated attendance records. Sassonís deceptive actions allowed him to fraudulently receive a graduation diploma from PIA, which in turn provided Sasson a prerequisite to test for an FAA regulated Airman Certificate. Sasson also fraudulently inflated his grades to the degree that he was named the class valedictorian.  

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