DOT Calls For Greater Oversight At Aircraft Repair Stations





DOT Calls For Greater Oversight At Aircraft Repair Stations 

By Bill Goldston

Locations of FAA Certificated Repair Stations Around The World

November 19, 2009 - The Inspector General testified on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) oversight of repair stations. It was noted that air carriers’ use of repair stations has risen dramatically in the last several years.  Both in the volume and type of repairs outsourced. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported since 2003 that FAA’s oversight of aircraft repair facilities is not robust enough to ensure that outsourced repairs meet FAA standards.

Specifically, the FAA does not know where all critical outsourced repairs are performed, for both certificated and non certificated facilities. Instead, it relies heavily on air carriers’ oversight of repair stations even air carriers with known quality assurance problems. Several of the OIG’s recommendations aimed at improving FAA’s oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations remain open.


Successfully implementing these recommendations would allow FAA to identify and target repair facilities in need of safety oversight as well as meet its statutory mandate to provide TSA with information needed to improve security oversight. 

Repair stations conduct a range of repairs and maintenance, from critical components—such as landing gear and engine overhauls—to heavy airframe maintenance checks, which are a complete teardown and overhaul of the aircraft. Currently, there are 4,858 FAA-certificated repair stations, 4,126 of which are located in the United States. Since 1994, the number of FAA-certificated foreign repair stations has increased from 344 to 731.  

Air carriers’ use of repair stations has risen dramatically in the last several years—both in the volume and type of repairs outsourced. Between 1996 and 2008, the percentage of outsourced maintenance increased from 37 percent to 64 percent (based on dollars spent). The first two quarters of fiscal year (FY) 2009 indicate that this trend is likely to continue, as 63 percent of maintenance expense was outsourced as of June 2009. 

Nine major air carriers reviewed sent 71 percent of heavy airframe checks to repair stations in 2007, up from only 34 percent in 2003. Foreign repair stations performed 27 percent of this work, compared to 21 percent in 2003.  

Safety oversight gaps have been reported by OIG, they have identified security vulnerabilities at repair stations located at commercial and general-aviation airports and off-airport property. OIG issued a report in 2003 disclosing these vulnerabilities and recommended that TSA and FAA assess repair stations to identify the greatest security risks—including susceptibility to sabotage—and develop security programs appropriate to the significance and criticality of the work performed.  

Implementing effective security programs would be a challenge for both TSA and FAA because foreign facilities are not subject to U.S. security requirements. The level and depth of security programs in other countries, including background checks, are subject to government requirements in the country where the repair station operates.  

Due in part to our recommendations in 2003, Congress enacted FAA’s 2003 Vision 100 Century of Aviation Reauthorization (Vision 100), which mandated TSA to complete large-scale security reviews of FAA-certificated foreign repair stations and issue final regulations by August 2004 to improve the security of foreign and domestic repair stations. TSA did not meet the 2004 deadline. 

In the August 2007 9/11 Commission Recommendation Act, Congress included a provision that if TSA did not issue a repair station security rule by August 2008, FAA would be barred from certifying any new foreign repair station.12Again, TSA was not able to meet the deadline, and FAA was barred from certifying any new foreign repair stations. However, TSA announced on November 16, 2009, that its proposed rule is now open for public comment.  

Pending legislation would address regulatory gaps in oversight of Foreign Repair Stations. Congress is introducing new bills to close other regulatory gaps between foreign and domestic repair stations that we have identified in our past work. While FAA verifies that approved repair stations have the equipment, personnel, and inspection systems to ensure that repairs are completed according to FAA standards, the repair stations are under the regulatory control of the government of the country in which they are located. As a result, there are some regulatory differences between domestic and foreign repair stations. 

Machinists Call for One Level of Aircraft Safety and Security.  “Since 9/11 we have tightened up the physical security at U.S. airports and required airline employees to pass stringent background checks,” said General Vice President Robert Roach, Jr. today at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.  

“But allowing U.S. aircraft to be maintained overseas at unsecure facilities by unqualified, and often unknown, personnel creates a gaping hole in the security of our air transportation system.”  

The Machinists Union used the hearing, titled is the Flying Public Protected? An Assessment of Security at Foreign Repair Stations, to shed light on some major safety and security lapses that occur at overseas maintenance repair stations, including the lack of security standards, no required criminal background checks of workers and the FAA practice of announcing repair station inspections months in advance.  

“The lowest cost, not the highest safety standards, is the driving force when airlines choose maintenance repair stations,” said Roach. “The Machinists Union believes there should be only one level of safety and security – the highest - for U.S. aircraft, regardless of where they are maintained. Having strict requirements for U.S. operations is meaningless if they can be avoided by an airline flying their planes to another country with lesser requirements and little or no FAA oversight.   

Less oversight means less money. If overseas repair stations and their employees cannot meet the same requirements as the airlines’ U.S.-based operations, Congress should mandate that work be performed within our borders where there is more FAA regulation and oversight.”  

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