VOL. 7 May ISSUE YEAR 2006
in Vol. 7 - May Issue - Year 2006
Insuring Safety In The Aviation Industry
Linda Goodrich, aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and regional vice president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS, AFL-CIO)
FAA aviation safety inspector at work
PASS represents more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense who install, maintain, support and certify air traffic control and national defense equipment, inspect and oversee the commercial and general aviation industries, develop flight procedures and perform quality analyses of the aviation systems. For more information, visit the PASS website at www.passnational.org.
MFN recently went behind the scenes to see what the dangers are when shot peening gets into the wrong hands. We sat down with Linda Goodrich, aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and regional vice president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS, AFL-CIO), to get to the bottom of how the established technology of shot peening can be manipulated to adversely affect the safety of the aviation industry.
(?) MFN: Tell us about yourself, what you do and whom you represent.
(!) L. G.: I’ve been an FAA aviation safety inspector (ASI) for over 22 years. My experience runs the mill of doing everything from guiding the wings of sailplanes and flying in air shows to working on movies and aircraft maintenance. I actually started out as a professional opera and Broadway musical singer so the transition to certificated airframe and power plant mechanic and commercial pilot may seem unusual, but both provide a freedom to express yourself. Like most, I became an inspector because I have a passion to make a difference in the aviation industry. I felt a deep affinity when I became a pilot/maintenance technician and the transition to becoming an inspector was a natural one for me. I seldom regret the decision, especially when someone tries to compromise safety and preclude the dedicated safety professionals from doing it right.
I am also a member of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), which was founded in 1977 and represents over 2,800 Federal Aviation Administration inspectors and another 900 safety support staff who are responsible for certification, education, oversight and surveillance of approximately 7,000 air operator certificates, 6,000 air agency (repair station) certificates, 240,000 aircraft, 637,000 active pilots, 400,000 non-pilot personnel, 83,000 flight instructors and more than 25,000 designees. Even though our inspectors have various specialties, we all have one primary focus – aviation safety.
(?) MFN: How does shot peening relate to your profession?
(!) L. G.: Even though various versions of peening have been around forever, the recognition of the impact on the aviation world is relatively recent; hence, my interest in ensuring that people possess the right skills and access to technical data and appreciate the impact their work has on aviation safety. I have already personally seen what happens when it is misapplied – the significance is overwhelming and the consequences could be catastrophic.
(?) MFN: Do you know of any instances of shot peening affecting the safety of the airline industry?
(!) L. G.: My first encounter with shot peen in the wrong hands was when I was conducting surveillance at a general aviation/executive airport in Southern California. The point of the surveillance was to visit individual mechanics, interface with the pilots and be available to see operations. That day I noticed an exceptionally shiny aircraft and stopped by to see the impressive result of someone with a lot of pride in their investment. The aircraft was perfect, almost too perfect. I realized that someone, if not the owner, had recently prepared the aircraft for paint and had "peened" the rivet heads right off the body of the aircraft, making the skin wonderfully smooth. Unfortunately, the owner wasn’t available for comment. The aircraft was rendered unusable until every single rivet was drilled out and replaced. The written response back to the FAA was "down for maintenance."
Another incident occurred during the investigation of an aircraft accident in the 80s, again in Southern California. One of the aircraft’s engines had an uncontained failure so the next step was to evaluate the breakdown. While visiting the engine repair facility, I noticed a bench with many shiny burner cans (internal to the engine). I inquired as to who was cleaning them to such a shine and how they were achieving that shine. The facility informed me that they outsourced the cleaning to a non-certificated vendor who was using whatever pressure and medium that would give the burner can the eye-catching shine. This definitely contributed to this accident and lead to a significant change at the facility and their quality control processes and oversight of outsourced maintenance.
(?) MFN: What are some of the biggest challenges that inspectors encounter in your line of work?
(!) L. G.: One of our biggest challenges is the outsourcing of work to those who are not adequately trained or not doing the work with a strict focus on safety. In some instances, people are in it for the money – BIG money. Aviation-related parts can bring 10 to 100 times or more than their automotive counterparts. According to the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s report AV-2005-062, “Safety Oversight of an Air Carrier Industry in Transition,” released in June 2005, the percentage of outsourced maintenance for major air carriers has gone up as much as 24 percent between 2002 and 2004. In July 2005, the DOT said U.S. carriers contract out 53 percent of their aircraft maintenance expense, an increase of 6 percent from 2003. Furthermore, much of this outsourced work is performed in areas outside the United States, with some sources stating that as much as 70 percent of airline maintenance contracts are now done in areas such as El Salvador, Hong Kong and Singapore.
We have an ongoing battle with many non-certificated companies and individuals around the world who use shot peen type processes to clean up timed-out parts and sell them as new or refurbished – this is the "bogus" or "suspected unapproved parts" business and it is a billion dollar business. Unsuspecting buyers are looking for "good deals" and trying to purchase a lower-priced part. Unfortunately, these buyers often are duped into believing these are airworthy parts.
(?) MFN: What’s your solution?
(!) L. G.: It is critical in this business that the men and women using any peening processes are properly trained and certificated and follow manufacturer standards and applicable technical data. It goes without saying that deviations can lead to loss of life. Don’t lower your standards to meet a corporate agenda or give in to pressure to skip critical steps – your decision could cause or prevent an accident.
(?) MFN: What are some other issues faced in your profession?
(!) L. G.: Currently, the airline industry is facing a slew of financial problems, which have caused the industry to search for additional cost-saving methods. This results in an increasing reliance on outsourcing maintenance work. Inspectors are charged with ensuring this outsourced maintenance is performed in accordance with airline, manufacturer and certificated repair station instructions, and FAA regulations. Yet, as the outsourcing business explodes, the number of FAA inspectors has not increased accordingly. The FAA has been repeatedly criticized for not keeping pace with the oversight of outsourced maintenance work at domestic and foreign repair facilities. If the industry is going to continue to outsource critical maintenance work, it is essential to aviation safety that there are enough inspectors to ensure the safety of this work.
There are probably 50,000 or more non-certificated facilities around the world doing work on aircraft or parts with little or no government oversight to ensure they are meeting minimum safety standards. The FAA is pushing very hard to enable the maximum amount of self-regulation, thus virtually eliminating government oversight and our ability to protect the customer – the flying public. We are currently placing a large focus on ensuring that if someone or a company wishes to do work on an aircraft used for commercial transportation of passengers or cargo, then they should be regulated and certified.
(?) MFN: Given the state of the airline industry, how safe is it to fly?
(!) L. G.: Right now, the flying public is enjoying the safest and lowest accident rate in the history of commercial aviation, but lack of aviation safety staff and attention to a serious degradation or the safety margin have created a serious situation. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) just announced that both commercial and general aviation accident rates in 2005 are up. We are fighting to get the resources we need to enhance the safety margin and reverse this new trend. At a time when profits are down and the industry is faced with skyrocketing fuel prices, our best deterrent is a well-trained technician along with proper government oversight and support to ensure aviation safety within the United States and throughout the world.
We at MFN would like to thank Linda Goodrich for the interview.
Kori Blalock, Legislative/Public Relations Coordinator