Southwest Airlines outsources maintenance and puts customers at risk

From our newest friend, Union Girl's site "Women, Unions and their Stories" (3/13/08)

I confess, I haven't been following this story and now, I'm pissed at my own malfeasance, Dirtdiggers have the story:

The safety threats from outsourcing have also been cited for years by the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (FAA’s parent agency). A 2003 report by the IG found that major carriers were outsourcing some 47 percent of their total maintenance costs. The IG’s examination of conditions at a sample of repair stations used in the outsourcing found that 86 percent had “discrepancies” such as the use of improper parts and equipment and outdated manuals. A 2005 follow-up report found that the majors had upped the outsourced portion of their maintenance spending to 53 percent, with Southwest well above the average at 64 percent (see page 8).

Last June, the IG told Congress that the majors were now spending 64 percent of their maintenance dollars on contractors. He went on to point to the “challenges” facing the FAA in dealing with the continuing growth of outsourcing, including the fact that it did not have a good system for assigning its inspectors. But the agency told the IG it was addressing the problem—by commissioning a study from…a contractor.
Hit up the Phil Mattera post for all the latest links to reports. But as a primer on the scandal, United Press International has a brief note
Southwest was found to have allowed dozens of jets to fly beyond the date structural inspections were due.

The FAA fined the airline $10.2 million last week, but two FAA inspectors have charged that FAA officials had told them to back away from earlier notification that the airline's maintenance program had lapsed.

Southwest suspended three employees Wednesday.
And, from the Dallas Morning News:
The fine would be the largest ever levied against an airline, the FAA said.

When Southwest belatedly conducted the inspections, it found cracks in the bodies of six Boeing 737-300s, with the largest measuring 4 inches. Serious fractures can depressurize an aircraft and in 1988 caused an Aloha Airlines jet to rip apart, killing a flight attendant.

The FAA announced the fine a week before congressional investigators were to disclose findings from their own inquiry into Southwest's failure to meet airworthiness directives. That investigation was prompted by information provided by Dallas-based FAA inspectors who said their supervisors allowed the planes to keep flying even after Southwest reported its failure to make the scheduled inspections.
Did you see the bolded text? Let me repeat that:
That investigation was prompted by information provided by Dallas-based FAA inspectors who said their supervisors allowed the planes to keep flying even after Southwest reported its failure...
Now, if that isn't a kick in the pants, perhaps this might bring it hom, again, from the same piece:
Too many FAA supervisors have grown cozy with airline managers, Ms. Goodrich said. Inspectors are second-guessed if they highlight a costly problem that airlines don't want to address, she said [Linda Goodrich, a regional vice president for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union].
Does anyone really believe it's a good idea for big business to police itself, or for that matter, to work with the inspectors who are there to police them? Seriously? Now, I also want to point out that no one should worry their pretty little heads about the inspectors who wanted better oversight, FAA dealt with them:
Mr. Boutris was removed from duty as he was investigated last year, according to Frank Gentile, an official with Mr. Boutris' union in Fort Worth. Mr. Gentile said the investigation was retaliatory for pushing the issue of how FAA managers dealt with Southwest.

"He was the inspector and found the issues with Southwest Airlines and went to report it to his appropriate supervisor," Mr. Gentile said. "He was told to back off."
Hmm, retalitory behavior, what a freaking surprise! But honestly, what would you expect from the leadership of the Department of Transportation. I mean, we are talking about the stewardship of Secretary Mary Peters. Of course, I really think her "stewardship" is more along the lines of a continued blatant disregard for anything other than big business, 24-7, safety be damned.

You can catch up on this issue through MSNBC's recent report.
Nice work Union Girl

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