Roland and I travel a lot overseas, and sometimes we wind up on funky internal airlines in places like Mali, India, Vietnam, Morocco, Hungary, Argentina, Thailand... We pray to the maintenance gods that everything was done competently and tell ourselves that it was all done under U.S. or U.K. supervision, knowing full well that it wasn't and wondering about how many corners were cut. Today I got a memo from the Transport Workers Union of America (AFL-CIO) in DC. The title is above, The subtitle is no less assuring: Ridge Global Report Says Safety and Security Concerns of Commercial Aviation Better Addressed When Repair and Maintenance is Performed in the U.S. The report itself is called Risks Associated With Foreign Repair Stations.
Airline passengers may be less safe when the plane they are flying on has been repaired or maintained in a foreign country. That is among the conclusions of a risk-based report by Ridge Global, a firm founded by former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on risks associated with the use of foreign repair stations by the U.S. airline industry."Republican outsourcing in the Age of Trump" would have been another possible title, I guess. A tad too provocative, maybe?
The Transport Workers of America contracted with Gov. Ridge’s firm, Ridge Global, LLC, to assess the safety and security risks associated with foreign-based repair and overhaul facilities. The Transport Workers Union represents more than 140,000 workers in the airline, rail, subway, bus, utility and service industries.
Nearly 50-percent of maintenance work done by air carriers registered in the United States, including the major airlines, is conducted outside the United States. The facilities in foreign countries where commercial aircraft are repaired and maintained, however, are not as secure as those in the United States, the report states. Protections against unauthorized access are not as strong, and employee background checks are not as thorough, as those in the United States.
“Both conditions increase risks related to situations that could be more easily exploited by terrorists or individuals with harmful intent,” the Ridge Global report states.
“The Ridge Global Report exposes significant flaws in the mechanical maintenance practices of the United States airline industry,” TWU International President John Samuelsen, said. “Major air carriers’ lust for profits has driven them to fix planes on foreign soil, which has compromised the safety and security of America’s air travelers. It’s the dangerous dirty secret of America’s airlines, and the U.S. government must act to end this danger.”
“There are obvious disparities between domestic and foreign oversight and repair of commercial airlines,” said Gov. Ridge. “While there have thankfully been few U.S. aviation incidents in recent years, even one is too many, and so it is important travelers are aware how airplanes they fly on each day are maintained. Given the absence of direct oversight by the FAA and the differences described in our report, the qualifications of those responsible for oversight and those maintaining and repairing the aircraft in foreign countries cannot be viewed as meeting the same rigorous standards of inspection and repair as required in the U.S.”
The mechanics that do this critically important work at facilities located overseas, are not subject to the same intense scrutiny by government regulators, or held to the same high standards as mechanics in America, the report states.
One of the most significant disparities in terms of regulatory oversight deals with drug and alcohol testing requirements. Testing is mandated in the U.S. Employment and privacy laws in many foreign countries prevent such testing. Another contrast involves the inspection process itself. FAA domestic inspections can be random and without notice. That approach is prohibited in foreign countries.
“Foreign repair stations present risks that domestic ones do not,” the report further states. “These risks are due in part, to how laws and regulations are applied. We concluded that the safety and security concerns of commercial aviation are better addressed when the repair and maintenance is done in the United States.”