6 Years of Unsupervised Supervision=65000 Flights of Chaos

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
By George Hatcher

They say about real estate that the three most important things are location, location, location. And that makes sense, because the key factor about real estate is its lack of portability. Whether you’re in Calabasas or Timbuktu, where you are ultimately is where you are. The fact that it is where it is is what makes it what it is. Intrinsic value, and all that.

One could argue what the most important thing about travel is. You could make a strong argument for getting there, being there, or smelling the roses along the way. If we narrow the question to the single most important thing about air travel, the most important thing is probably getting there in one piece–mostly because it seems that getting there safely and completely without incident is an ever more dubious proposition, a perception which is being emphasized now more than ever due to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System. When record keeping changes, it is difficult to say if some underlying factor has changed, or if the reporting is the only change. At any given time, it looks like the odds of getting there in one piece–on a plane that is 100% airworthy–are starting to look slim. And that is important whether the a plane is landing at LAX, (third busiest US Airport)

NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System allows crew members to phone in anonymous reports, a whistle-blower’s hotline as it were. So there’s a record of blunders, errors, faults, and slip-ups, like improper repairs, substandard repairs, unqualified mechanics and maintenance deficits that might otherwise have slipped by or gotten swept under the rug.

Honestly, what I see on these reports makes me seriously anxious. I’ll be facing more white-knuckled flights, just knowing that in the past six years, 65,000 flights have taken off in less than airworthy condition in conditions of deferred maintenance, or sporting less than stellar repairs farmed out to contract shops. 65,000 flights is a lot of flights, even if it is spread out over 6 years and 63 million flights. And do I believe that ALL of the other planes were in perfect running order? No.

Some of the mechanical problems that down planes can be linked back to tiny repairs, or perhaps I should say involving small but very important parts. If a plane can go down because a single screw is loose, or the threads are worn, then acute attention to maintenance is exponentially more important. I wouldn’t set foot in a golf cart in the condition some of these planes are in. But as a commercial passenger, I would never know if repairs on my flight were deferred. I would not know if a plane were outsourced to a sub-standard repair facility by mechanics without repair manuals, proper tools or correct parts. Outsourcing repairs to other countries not only removes shops from proper supervision, it also opens up the possibility of security risk. But I digress from what is my primary concern right now.

A sense of proportion and common sense should be applied here. Lights over a passenger seat are not as crucial as a screw assembly on the tail that provides pitch control.

I’m just saying:

We need more qualified supervised aviation repair facilities on U.S. soil.
We need airlines to stop deferring repairs.
We need airlines to maintain high standards.
We need the FAA and the NTSB to do their jobs.

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