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Aircraft Mechanics Push DOT On Foreign Repair Station Oversight

AS REPORTED BY BEN GOLDSTEIN FOR AVIATION WEEKLY

WASHINGTON—Four unions representing U.S. aviation safety inspectors and mechanics wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urging the department to implement three long-delayed Congressional directives intended to boost oversight of foreign repair stations that work on U.S. aircraft.

The Congressional directives relate to drug and alcohol testing, security screening for safety-sensitive personnel and risk-based oversight at foreign repair stations. The unions wrote that lack of enforcement of these provisions has led to a “two-tiered safety system with glaring regulatory loopholes.”

Mechanic unions have often directed heavy scrutiny in recent years toward facilities based in lower-labor cost regions, such as Asia and Latin America. They rarely mention German-based Lufthansa Technik and MTU Aero Engines, however, which perform more engine overhauls on U.S. aircraft than anyone save GE Aviation or Pratt & Whitney.

The 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act and the 2016 FAA Extension Act included requirements directing the FAA to issue a proposed rule requiring alcohol and drug testing for all foreign repair station employees responsible for safety-sensitive maintenance on U.S. aircraft. While the Obama administration issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on drug and alcohol testing in 2014, no further action on the rulemaking has been taken since.

“If we believe drug and alcohol testing is a true cornerstone of aviation safety, then it is regulatory malpractice not to extend this requirement to foreign stations working on aircraft used by U.S. carriers,” the unions wrote.

The 2016 Extension Act included two other provisions to increase oversight of foreign repair stations, including a measure requiring FAA to implement risk-based oversight of stations with demonstrated records of poor-quality work, the unions pointed out. That provision also required airlines to share data with FAA that would inform the agency about which specific stations are routinely performing substandard MRO work.

The other relevant directive from the 2016 Extension act requires FAA to ensure that each worker performing safety-sensitive work at foreign repair stations has undergone a pre-employment background investigation.

“The reforms mandated by Congress and their initial deadlines predate your time as Secretary of Transportation, but the responsibility to fulfill these obligations now falls to you,” the groups wrote.

The letter was signed by the heads of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Transport Workers Union of America, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

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