Food for thought


Dec 21, 2002
February 14, 2003 - 10:17 am
Trouble on the Tarmac

Mark Sassman

George Gulliford

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By Kohr Harlan
News 8 Anchor/Reporter
Two former United Airlines mechanics say United and other major carriers are taking a big gamble with the safety of the traveling public.

The former mechanics say major carriers rely too heavily on outside contractors to perform major maintenance work on jetliners - work they say isn't being done properly.
To some extent all major carriers use independent maintenance companies to work on their jets. It's a way for airlines to get required work done while cutting costs.
The former mechanics News 8 talked with took us back to November 21st when a United Airlines plane with 82 people aboard couldn't pull up landing gear after leaving Chicago, so it came back to the airport for a landing many passengers won't soon forget.
The nose wheel on the Airbus A-319 was locked in the wrong direction - sideways instead of straight ahead. The plane skidded down runway four-right and came to rest with the wheel's assembly nearly ground to the axle.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators say the nose gear had been overhauled by an outside contractor shortly before this landing in Chicago. Two former airline mechanics who used to work at United's Indianapolis maintenance facility say the sideways landing gear is what airlines get when they stop using their own mechanics and instead turn maintenance of aircraft over to less expensive outside contractors to do the work.

We noticed that when airplanes came back from the third party facilities we would find a lot more things wrong with them than if they'd been overhauled inhouse,â€￾ said Mark Sassman, former United mechanic.
The airline fired Sassman in November of 2000. United said he was padding his time card. Sassman says it's because he was writing up too many problems on planes returning from outside contractors. Write-ups, he says, cost the airline time and money.

“When the planes would come back in we were seeing higher numbers of write-ups. Management was putting pressure on the union mechanics at the time to make less write ups on the aircraft to be competitive and even went as far as issuing letters threatening discipline for making excessive write-ups,â€￾ said Sassman.
I saw a aircraft come back from a third party facility where the leading edge of the wing which is the first part that goes through and starts the creation of your lift was held on with what we call rubber nuts or they just glued these screws in place,â€￾ said George Gulliford, former United mechanic.
Gulliford was laid off from United’s Indianapolis maintenance facility last November. He said mechanics are under constant pressure to not report things they'd like to fix. Gulliford likens it to a car mechanic who gets chewed out by his boss for finding too many things to fix in a customer’s car. This is the situation that most airline mechanics face continually on a daily basis,â€￾ he said.
United Airlines adamantly disagrees with claims made by its two former mechanics. Aircraft safety, says the airline, is the cornerstone of the entire industry. Outsourced work is less expensive, but the airline claims the quality is just fine.
The Federal Aviation Administration - responsible for the maintenance plan United abides by - says it has detected no pattern of increased safety violations resulting from outsourced maintenance.

Airline consultant Bruce Strand of Denver, Colorado advises airlines on financing and operations. He says outside contractors are doing much more work in the last five years and he says they do an excellent job. “I think the best evidence of that is if you look at Continental, Southwest, and Jet Blue airlines -- airlines with superior safety records -- they also do a lot of outsourcing of maintenance and they do it very successfully,â€￾ said Strand.
Out of thousands of flights originating each day in America, the accident rate as a result of mechanical failure is very low. Still, for people like Graham Fisher, who flies from Indianapolis every week for business, the issue of safety boils down to a simple requirement.
When you're up at 30,000 feet. There's no second guesses. It's got to be right,â€￾ said Fisher.
Maintenance on commercial aircraft is a $37 billion worldwide industry annually. Five years ago, according to Bruce Strand, outsourcing accounted for about a third of maintenance work. It now accounts for about half.
Despite concerns from the former mechanics News 8 spoke with, Strand says outsourcing is being used successfully by many commercial carriers.
On 2/15/2003 9:36:19 AM Hopeful wrote:

Despite concerns from the former mechanics News 8 spoke with, Strand says outsourcing is being used successfully by many commercial carriers.


Sure, like America West and ValuJet.