| WASHINGTON, March 29
WASHINGTON, March 29 Big U.S. airlines use
outside companies for nearly two thirds of aircraft
maintenance, but regulators do not have an adequate process for
vetting contractors and the quality of their repairs, a
government watchdog said.
Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel
told Congress on Thursday ahead of a hearing that outsourcing
to domestic and overseas maintenance companies is increasing
and includes minor fixes, engine repairs and entire aircraft
"Outsourcing maintenance has been a primary tool that air
carriers have used in recent years to reduce costs," Scovel
said in a written review of maintenance practices submitted to
the House of Representatives aviation subcommittee.
Scovel's investigators have yet to complete their
assessment, but he told lawmakers that outside contractors
performed 64 percent of airline maintenance through the first
nine months of 2006. The percentage was about half in 2004.
There are more than 4,200 domestic and 692 overseas
maintenance facilities certified by the FAA, government
Outsourcing of heavy maintenance, usually scheduled and the
most expensive work, doubled in three years to nearly 70
percent in 2006, Scovel said.
Carriers sending big jobs to contractors include United
Airlines UAUA.O, Continental Airlines (CAL.N), Southwest
Airlines (LUV.N), Northwest Airlines NWACQ.PK and Delta Air
Lines DALRQ.PK. Delta and Northwest are in the final stages
of bankruptcy restructuring.
American Airlines AMR.N does its heavy maintenance in
A third of heavy maintenance was sent to Canadian-based
companies or other overseas contractors, a point underscored by
Scovel when assessing the quality of oversight by the Federal
"FAA still falls short in its oversight of oursourced
airline maintenance," Scovel said.
For instance, Scovel said the regulator sought voluntary
information from airlines about the volume of critical repairs
by the end of 2006, but not all of the carriers had complied as
of last week.
Carriers do not have to identify all of their maintenance
contractors. Nor does the FAA verify what has been submitted.
"Without some form of verification, FAA cannot be assured
that air carriers have provided accurate and complete
information," Scovel said. He recommended a more thorough
Nicholas Sabatini, the FAA's senior safety official, said
there is always room for improvement but that oversight is
"The quality of maintenance is not compromised simply
because it is not being done by an air carrier," Sabatini said
in testimony to the subcommittee.
Sabatini said the agency has revised maintenance
regulations to improve quality control and is developing risk
management strategies for identifying design flaws or
mechanical glitches so that inspections can be targeted.
Scovel also raised concerns about a shortage of federal
maintenance inspectors and the use by airlines of repair
facilities that are not certified by the FAA, meaning
regulators have not signed off on a contractor's equipment,
staff qualifications, capabilities for doing specific work and
Scovel repeated a warning his office issued in 2005 about
airlines using non-certified facilities for major work.
Historically, uncertified repair stations were used for
changing tires or other minor tasks, but airlines have been
scheduling bigger jobs in recent years.