Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said he is disturbed by reports that six United Airlines Boeing 747s were grounded on Thursday because of errors by a foreign repair station.
The jumbo jets were grounded after it was discovered that improper pitot static testers – equipment used to test gauges that provide air data, such as the altimeter – were used by the facility to which United outsources its heavy maintenance in Busan, S. Korea.
“This just shows how risky it is to send airplanes offshore to be repaired,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “Overseas repair stations simply don’t meet the same standards as U.S. repair stations. The FAA should no longer allow U.S. airlines to send their repairs overseas.”
Supervisors and inspectors who sign off on maintenance work at foreign repair stations are not required to hold either a Federal Aviation Administration repairman certificate or an Airframe and/or Powerplant certificate, nor are the mechanics working on the aircraft at these facilities.
According to the FAA’s database, the South Korea repair station has only one certificated mechanic out of 38 employees.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general has reported that the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of foreign repair stations is uneven. Only 103 FAA inspectors (including management staff) are responsible for inspecting 692 foreign repair stations. Limited staff and travel budgets, and passport and visa controls, make unannounced inspections of these facilities virtually impossible.
“This incident is especially alarming, given that United has cut more maintenance positions than any other U.S. airline,” Hoffa said.
United outsourced 45 percent of its aircraft maintenance expenses in 2006, three times the amount it outsourced in 1998.
United CEO Glenn Tilton proposed in August 2007 the sale of UAL’s maintenance division, including its heavy maintenance base in San Francisco, which employs more than 4,000 mechanics.
United Airline mechanics are in the midst of voting to switch representation to the Teamsters from the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association. The voting period ends March 31.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. There are 40,000 Teamsters airline employees, including more than 9,000 mechanics and related at 11 airlines.
The Teamsters and Business Travel Coalition (BTC) have formed a partnership aimed at influencing the safety and homeland security issues surrounding critical airline maintenance outsourcing in the absence of a single, high regulatory standard and stringent FAA oversight.