Air Transport World

FAA points finger at airline maintenance systems.

FAA points finger at airline maintenance systems

"Maintenance went from here to way down here,' said the FAA maintenance inspector, his hand moving in a sloping downward arc. "Now its coming back up,' he added, his hand starting up, but falling short of the starting point.

He was describing FAA's view of the state of airline maintenance in the U.S. as the industry transitioned from regulation to deregulation. Airlines cut back staff size in general to pare organizational fat. On the maintenance side the effort to operate with reduced resources went too far, FAA inspections believe. The result was reduced ability to do the job correctly.

This downward slide was not caught because FAA, too, cut back staff size. Despite promises to Congress that it could handle deregulation with its existing inspector force, FAA found itself up to its eyebrows in the workload created by deregulation. When FAA revised its staffing needs, it was a downward revision, the agency trying to be a Reagan Administration team player answering the call to cut the federal workforce.

"As a result of deregulation, there was an explosive growth of air carriers from 1979 to 1983,' said Raymond E. Ramakis, FAA manager-aircraft maintenance div., in a speech to the Air Transport Association. "This activity, coupled with a declining inspector work force, overloaded the certification and oversight capability of the FAA.'

In early 1984 the perception that FAA oversight was lagging triggered the first of a series of special airline-by-airline inspections by FAA teams. These inspections became standard procedure in early 1986 with the creation of the National Aviation Safety Inspection Program. The admitedly ambitious goal of this program is to perform a concentrated inspection of each carrier once every three years.

Majority of the problems found by agency inspections were caused by failures in the system airlines use to track the maintenance process, Ramakis told ATW. …

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