WASHINGTON » A repair station in the Philippines that services planes for nearly 50 airlines around the world, including Hawaiian Airlines, has shown a pattern of stubborn problems that safety experts say underscore concerns about the airline industry’s outsourcing of maintenance to facilities in developing countries.
The Federal Aviation Administration inspections of Lufthansa Technik Philippines in Manila said the facility had repeated difficulties following U.S. regulations on matters from record-keeping to calibrating tools for repairs. The records, which cover inspections from 2008 through last month, also cite recurring problems with training workers to FAA standards and unfamiliarity by in-house inspectors at Lufthansa Technik, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Airlines, with U.S. regulations.
Hawaiian, which flies four times a week between Honolulu and Manila, said Wednesday maintenance work performed on the turnaround of its Manila flights is regular line maintenance work, not major maintenance; and that Lufthansa Technik is audited regularly and "conforms to Hawaiian’s strict FAA-approved maintenance program procedures and standards."
"That work is performed by mechanics who have been certified in our FAA-approved procedures and is audited regularly by our management personnel," said Charles Nardello, senior vice president of operations for Hawaiian. "We are very comfortable with the quality of service provided by Lufthansa Technik Philippines."
During an inspection in May, the FAA found that Lufthansa Technik’s "quality assurance department demonstrated an inability to effectively audit the repair station for compliance with all aspects of (U.S. regulations), specifically, appropriate facilities, tools/ equipment, personnel and training requirements."
A 2009 inspection noted that two in-house inspectors were unfamiliar with FAA maintenance regulations. The inspectors had recently received four hours of training in the regulations, but weren’t tested for their knowledge, it said.
The reports show problems scattered throughout the facility rather than in one department, which indicates the problems are systemic, said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member and an expert on aircraft maintenance. The result, he said, is an erosion of the margin of safety.
"As they expand into Third World countries to take advantage of the labor rates and lower costs, these problems keep coming back because you just don’t have the people infrastructure," Goglia said. ———
The contributed to this report.