Amendment would bring oversight to currently uncertified aircraft repair stations
As Americans endure unprecedented delays in airports across the country and see a shocking number of flights grounded because of overdue repair work, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) unveiled a bipartisan amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that would significantly increase government oversight of airline repair work performed abroad. More than ever before, United States air carriers are outsourcing their maintenance work to facilities located outside the country, many of which remain uncertified and operate without U.S. safety regulations or security precautions.
"This should be a national security and consumer safety concern for the flying public. It is absurd to think that we are crisscrossing this country in airplanes that are serviced in facilities with no required standards and no FAA inspections," McCaskill said.
"This amendment 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."
The amendment will address the growth of maintenance outsourcing by ensuring that American air carriers receive repairs only at fully certified facilities which are regularly inspected by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials. The provision will also update the certification fees to ensure the FAA has the resources it needs to meet these requirements while not shifting the cost of maintenance outsourcing to American taxpayers.
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 amendment 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 foreign 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.