MAY 18, 2009
The U.S. government has for decades licensed airline mechanics that are unable to read manuals for the sophisticated aircraft they work on or document repairs on a mandatory log because they can’t even speak English.
The scandal has been exposed by a Texas news station that conducted an in-depth investigation on how the Federal Aviation Administration licenses mechanics. The multiple-part series is scary enough to ground even the bravest of frequent flyers.
It turns out that the agency in charge of aviation safety actually compromises it by allowing severely unqualified individuals to repair planes nationwide. The issue gained worldwide attention when investigators found that cables incorrectly connected by incompetent mechanics caused a plane to crash during takeoff in North Carolina, killing 29.
Repairing airplanes is complicated and requires mechanics to consult books that lay out various processes step by step. The mechanic is then required to list every action taken so that the next mechanic knows exactly what has been done. Because the international language of aviation is English, if the mechanic can’t read or speak the language, he can’t read the manual or record his activities.
One frustrated FAA mechanic who works at a Texas aircraft repair station says he has colleagues who “don’t have a clue” how to read a maintenance manual because they don’t know English. The news investigation discovered that an FAA licensing center in San Antonio actually tested mechanics in Spanish even though the real deal requires fluent English.
Since the shameful results of the news probe were made public, the FAA now admits 1,300 mechanics’ credentials may be in question because they got certified at FAA-approved centers that conducted improper tests or they were not required to speak and read English, which is considered the most basic requirement for U.S. certification.
This simply marks the latest of several safety scandals at the FAA in recent years. In 2008 two FAA inspectors testified before a House Transportation Committee that they were threatened with dismissal after reporting a major U.S. airline’s serious safety violations to agency supervisors who had cozy relationships with the carriers.
A few years ago a congressional investigation blasted the FAA’s claims of drastically improved air safety, exposing record amounts of runway incursions at major airports around the nation. Investigators found that runway safety gains achieved earlier this decade have been eroded by overworked controllers and lack of leadership at the FAA.
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