Legislation would bring oversight to currently uncertified aircraft repair stations
With growing airport delays and dozens of flights grounded this year because of overdue repair work, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to boost government oversight of airline repair work performed abroad. The Safe Aviation Facilities Ensure Aircraft Integrity and Reliability (SAFE AIR) Act of 2008 would ensure that domestic air carriers receive maintenance work at fully certified facilities regularly inspected by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.
More than ever before, United States air carriers are outsourcing maintenance work to facilities located outside the country, many of which remain uncertified and operate without U.S. safety regulations or security precautions. The legislation - identical to an amendment filed in April during Senate debate on the FAA Reauthorization bill - aims to protect the safety and security of the country's flying public by addressing this trend.
"Airline maintenance is not the place to pinch pennies, and oversight of this area is not something we should shirk," McCaskill said. "Too much is at stake to allow the government to turn its back while airlines are outsourcing such important work without regular inspections or basic security measures. If we don't do something, this will remain a disaster waiting to happen."
"This legislation seeks to certify the quality of foreign repair work performed on U.S commercial aircrafts," Specter said. "With heavy maintenance work on aircrafts being increasingly outsourced to foreign repair stations, it is important that the FAA adequately inspect these facilities."
About 50 percent of aircraft maintenance is outsourced to foreign countries, according to a 2005 report from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector General (IG). That same report found that both scheduled and critical maintenance is being performed overseas at uncertified locations, going far beyond a simple oil change or tire-pressure check.
The outsourcing of airline maintenance has continued to grow despite a 2003 DOT IG report revealing serious security concerns, including an al Qaeda member found working at a repair station in Singapore. The report discovered easy access to facilities by outsiders and found that the FAA was leaving employee background checks and alcohol and drug testing up to the individual airlines.
Last year in a Senate subcommittee hearing, the Department of Transportation's IG confirmed that the FAA had failed to implement specific recommendations made by the IG in the 2005 report to improve government oversight of foreign repair facilities.
The McCaskill-Specter SAFE AIR Act would address safety and security concerns at foreign repair stations by:
Requiring identification and oversight of non-certified repair facilities. The FAA must submit a plan to Congress within 6 months of enactment to identify and expand its oversight of all non-certified facilities used by U.S. air carriers.
Requiring that American aircraft receive maintenance only at FAA-certificated repair stations. The FAA must develop new regulations requiring that all maintenance work on American aircraft be performed by employees of FAA-certified U.S. air carriers, FAA-certified repair stations, or other qualified persons working under the direct supervision and control of an FAA-certified repair station or FAA-certified air carrier.
Requiring FAA inspectors to perform inspections of certified foreign repair stations twice a year. At least one inspection must be performed without advance notice.
Requiring drug and alcohol testing of employees performing maintenance at foreign repair stations. This is consistent with requirements for maintenance workers at U.S. repair stations.
Enforcing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Requirements at Foreign Repair Stations. The amendment would require certified foreign repair stations to comply with security standards issued by the TSA.
Updating the foreign repair station fee schedule to ensure taxpayers are not subsidizing the outsourcing of aircraft maintenance work. The amendment requires the FAA's fee schedule for certification of foreign repair facilities to cover the entire cost of the certification, including the cost of inspections and association travel expenses, as well as the benefits and salaries of inspectors.
Requiring regular inspector general oversight of amendment's implementation. The Department of Transportation's IG must report annually on implementation.