I have written several times before about the growing numbers of US airlines which fly their passenger jets to El Salvador for maintenance work. The work is done by Aeroman, the maintenance subsidiary of TACA, and is a source of hundreds of good-paying jobs for the mechanics. I wrote about
Frontier Airlines, Jet Blue and America West sending their planes south.
When Southwest Airlines announced that it too might move maintenance work to El Salvador, my post produced a spirited debate about the possibility that safety might be compromised by using the less-expensive Salvadoran mechanics. There was no proof, and it might have just been put down to the pain of unionized American workers losing their jobs to foreign outsourcing.
But now National Public Radio in the US has run an investigative report including interviews with Aeroman mechanics and instances of faulty work creating unsafe conditions on US Airways passenger jets. From the report:
[T]he mechanics say managers keep pressuring them to fix the planes faster. For instance, if there's rust on a metal beam, but it's just a little over tolerance, "the supervisor says, 'Oh, just leave it like that,' " the mechanic says, through an interpreter. " 'There's no need to repair it.' "
The FAA requires that mechanics fix the planes according to the airline manuals — whether they're in the U.S. or overseas. But the mechanics at Aeroman say their supervisors often say that takes too much time.
Although the FAA periodically inspects at the Aeroman facility, the inspections are always pre-announced, with plenty of time to present a quality appearance, according to the report.
It's a troubling story, if airline passengers are being put at risk. Yet, as the story notes, it has been several years since there was an aircraft crash due to poor maintenance (and it was not Aeroman maintenance). You need to be careful extrapolating from a handful of anecdotes. Perhaps the story's most important lesson is that airlines and the FAA need to step up their level of scrutiny of Aeroman and similar shops.
Not great news for TACA which had just announced its merger with the Colombian airline Avianca.