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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

FAA Finds Faulty Work by Contracted Maintenance Workers

Aired July 10, 2003 - 19:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get started with our top story.
Every time you board an airliner it is an act of faith. Not just faith in the ability of the pilots, the crew and the flight controllers but in the army of maintenance workers, laboring behind the scenes to make sure the aircraft is in good repair.

Now in recent years, airlines have been more and more likely to hire outside contractors to handle maintenance. But now a government report has found significant mistakes in, get this, 86 percent of those outside companies. Eighty-six percent. So the question is, are your planes safe?

Here's Patty Davis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crash of Air Midwest Flight 5481 in January killed all 21 on board. Federal crash investigators are looking into whether maintenance contracted out to a private repair station played a role in the accident.

It's not just Air Midwest. The major airlines are increasingly farming out maintenance, rather than doing the work themselves. They spend nearly half their maintenance dollars on outsourcing.

The Transportation Department's inspector general found problems went undetected at 86 percent of the private repair stations it audits in the U.S. and overseas. They range from using improper parts and equipment to poor record keeping to insufficient training.

Safety experts say penalties for violations at outsourced shops are so low there's little incentive to improve.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Oftentimes the penalties are in the $1,000 to $2,500 range. They are not significant. And very seldom are repair stations who are repeat offenders put out of business.

DAVIS: The Federal Aviation Administration comes in for tough criticism for not paying enough attention to the repair stations. Instead, the inspector general says the FAA is focusing too much on airlines' in-house maintenance.

The FAA says its already moving to fix the problem. New rules, in fact, go into effect this fall to increase surveillance and standards for private repair stations.

MARION BLAKEY, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: We're going to make sure that we've got our resources and our expected work force keeping up exactly with the way the airlines are doing business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS: The report comes at a time when airlines are losing money. Under pressure to cut costs, contract maintenance is cheaper. The inspector general wants to make sure that it is just as safe -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is an alarming report.

Now I understand the TSA also made another decision today having to do with shoes and whether you or I have to take them off when we walk through the screeners. What's going on there? What was decided?

DAVIS: Well, the TSA -- there's been a lot of complaints from passengers saying, "Listen, you're making me take my shoes off. I have to walk bare foot over the dirty floor and then get my shoes screened and pick them up on the other side."

Well, the TSA wants to clarify the policy, wants to be ever customer friendly, saying that they're not going to require that everybody have their shoes screened. And that, in fact, wasn't the policy all along but it's been inconsistently applied from airport to airport.

What they're saying now is you can go ahead and walk through with your shoes on but if a screener for some reason wants to screen your shoes, in that case you're going to have to sit down and go through the secondary screening, which can be quite onerous at times.

So the TSA is saying, "Listen, just put your shoes through the screening machines, stop complaining or you're -- you may be subjected to secondary screening" -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. I'm flying on Sunday. We'll see how it works. Patty David, thanks very much.

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