PBS special about aircraft maintenance

PBS has an interesting special entitled “Flying Cheaper,” about the constant outsourcing of aircraft maintenance by US airlines. Much of this is outsourcing to other US companies, so we’re not just talking about maintenance going abroad.

While I’m no expert on aircraft maintenance, the episode seems to raise some legitimate concerns. At the same time, based solely on the safety records of US airlines over the past few years, we seem to be safer now than ever before.

(Tip of the hat to Eric)

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  1. Saw this program on Tuesday night. While I agree that commercial aviation appears safe, this program will make you wonder if it is by design or have we been just lucky. I would urge all to watch this “Frontline” presentation and draw their own conclusions —–

  2. Having watched this (and commented on it on FlyerTalk) the one thing I took away from this was the one-sided reporting. They found a problem case and hammered away at it. What about the MRO arms of American and Delta? What about the good outsourcing MROs? This “report” was exactly the kind of yellow journalism that made me leave TV news.

  3. I wondered that too, Jason. I don’t know too much about the MRO industry, but in theory you would think that for airlines with all kinds of planes due to mergers it is probably much BETTER to send each plane to someone who knows how to fix it instead of maintaining staff for all the different planes. Also, competition means there are other places to go if the work is shoddy.

  4. this aired, like, a year ago. i figured everyone would have seen it by now. i highly suggest heading over to the PBS website and watching EVERY Frontline episode. you will be blown away.

  5. I agree with the unpopular sentiment on the FT thread that FTers don’t like to go against the grain or admit that anything’s wrong. Even if this piece is sensationalistic, and even if commercial aviation is safer than it’s ever been, the anecdotes about ST Aerospace will make your skin crawl. I don’t care that the current statistics are favorable. It’s no excuse to be complacent about TOMORROW’S potential tragedies. And I did dream last night about a horrific wreck resulting from shoddy maintenance. I awoke in a cold sweat, hoping it won’t be reality. There is no excuse for falsified documents or second-rate parts ANYWHERE in commercial aviation. Even if there are just a few bad actors, they need to be exposed and held accountable immediately. The FT thread accused PBS of somehow being racist, but the main problem that was highlighted is shady practices within the US. We simply cannot bury our heads in the sand.

  6. US-based MROs are sadly the bottom of the barrel as far as standards go in North America. The program rightly points out some of the unsafe practices that are possibly commonplace there. That has nothing to do with outsourcing of work overseas. Indeed, in Europe and Asia, MROs are actually the cream of the crop. They have the best training, the best facilities and recruit the brightest engineers. MRO work is often far superior to the in-house work that many airlines do as the MRO providers have far more experience performing specialized jobs on various aircraft types.

    I think the producers of the program lacked the understand of the different dynamics in the marketplace. Their attempt to extrapolate the deficiencies in the US system and more importantly the FAA’s deficient oversight of US vendors to the foreign MROs (especially one as blue chip as AMECO) was poor form and lost them a lot of credibility from industry insiders.

    If anything, the point of exposes like this should be to shake up the FAA and bring them into the 21st century as far as aviation oversight goes. The fact that the developing world is increasingly moving towards a JAR/EUOPS oversight model and away from a FAR based one is evidence enough of the respect they are losing around the world and how out of touch the FAA is from realities.

  7. The piece was certainly a hack job. They did nothing more than take one operation — and I’ll accept that it’s a troubled one even though I don’t feel confident in that assessment — and ignored all the other in-house and outsourced industry maintenance going on.

    Not to mention, why does it necessarily follow that I want the same airline that flies the plane to be the organization that repairs the plane? I’m a great driver and an absolutely lousy mechanic. Specialization is a good thing.

    Frontline is going downhill.

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