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Outsourcing Severely Compromises Airline Safety, Say Industry Insiders


One senior mechanic says he "won't fly on an American Airlines' 757 and will not allow [his] family to, either."


An American Airlines (PINK:AAMRQ) 757 made an emergency landing yesterday at JFK after a row of passenger seats came loose, mid-flight.

"A row of seats basically became unbolted from the floor. The seats were completely not attached," Sam Mayer, an AA pilot and a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, told the New York Post.

The plane landed safely and no one was hurt. But if your first reaction was, "Thank God it was only the seats," keep reading.

"We've had two diverts and a series of write-ups about the same problem with 757s," Tom Hoban, an American Airlines First Officer and a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, tells me. "They used to go to American maintenance facilities in Fort Worth and Tulsa but now they go to an outside vendor; our guys tell us the work is pretty shoddy."

Indeed, American's 757 maintenance is being outsourced. And the work is, by all accounts, pretty shoddy. According to one AA insider, the same shoddy workmanship that caused a row of seats to "slid[e] around like a carnival ride" is also going into the most critical parts of the aircraft.

"The company is called TIMCO," Larry Pike, a veteran American Airlines mechanic and president of the Transport Workers Union Local 567 in Fort Worth, Texas, tells me. "And the same people who forgot to bolt down the seats are also working on the engines."

Pike says he "won't fly on an American Airlines 757 and will not allow my family to, either."

"The pilots who went to pick up some of the first ones TIMCO did said they weren't even airworthy," Pike tells me. "I read the reports, just unbelievable -- the cockpits were a shambles, there was leaking oil, brake lines leaking fluid, lines left loose; our pilots refused to take them -- and these planes were coming out of an overhaul. It's like shade tree mechanics working on a car, only they're working on aircraft."

An Industry-Wide Crisis

The problems associated with the outsourcing of aircraft maintenance is not limited to one airline or one plane.

"This is not just American, it's industry-wide," says Tom Hoban. "The biggest heavy maintenance facilities are in El Salvador and China and there's essentially no real daily oversight there. You don't have A&P (Airframe & Powerplant) certified mechanics, there's a lack of quality assurance programs, and you're at the mercy of how that particular facility is run, and you really have no idea as to what kind of maintenance actually occurred. The only time you have any actual visual assessment is when you have an in-flight emergency. And we pilots are the ones left holding the bag."

Why is this happening? Money. A recent study in the Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering quoted industry experts who estimated two-thirds of heavy maintenance costs are labor costs.
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