It’s Past Time to End the Double Standard in Aircraft Maintenance

12/18/2017 11:39 am ET

Think about the last time you or a family member flew on a commercial airplane. It may surprise you to learn there is a pretty good chance that the aircraft had maintenance work performed at a repair station located in a foreign country.

Why does this matter?

Even though foreign-based repair stations are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work on U.S. aircraft, they do not need to meet the same security, safety and oversight rules as U.S.-based repair stations. Let me say that again: based on location, aircraft maintenance is allowed to operate with two sets of standards.

From a safety and security perspective, this makes zero sense. Furthermore, it contributes to a set of rules and economic factors that incentivizes the outsourcing of good-paying jobs.

For years, TTD unions have been trying to address this blatant double standard. While lawmakers have sought to close some loopholes, too often Congressional mandates have been ignored or not fully implemented. TTD and our affiliated unions agree: this foot-dragging must end.

To focus even more attention on this problem, the Transport Workers Union has asked former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to assess the safety and security risks of foreign repair stations under the current regulatory regime. Secretary Ridge is going to be busy. There are more than 700 foreign repair stations certified by the FAA. A 2016 GAO survey of major airlines found that anywhere from 58 to 64 percent of maintenance repair work is outsourced, either domestically or abroad.

What’s more, we know foreign mechanics are allowed to work on U.S. aircraft without meeting the same rigid drug and alcohol testing rules as their U.S.-based counterparts. Congress has directed the FAA to fix this problem, but to date the agency has not implemented this requirement. Foreign mechanics also do not have to undergo any meaningful security threat assessments or background checks — a requirement we impose on U.S. mechanics. While FAA inspectors make frequent surprise visits to U.S. stations, inspections are only required once a year at foreign stations, and the host country is given a heads-up, allowing stations to fix problems that exist.

Our political leaders need to wake up and face reality: When it comes to regulating aircraft maintenance, the status quo just won’t cut it. Congress must exercise its oversight role to ensure mandates already passed are implemented and that safety and security issues are no longer ignored. The Trump Administration has an opportunity — and quite frankly, an obligation — to do what past administrations have failed to do: ensure that foreign aircraft repair stations are subject to the same strict safety and security measures as domestic repair stations. Passengers and aviation workers deserve no less.

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