There is so much going on the MRO, aviation in general, the world and in this issue of our publication, that I hardly know where to start. So I will dive right in.
As we went to press, Southwest Airlines was in the process of speeding up inspections of close to 40 (and possibly as many as 88) aircraft in its fleet. These were aircraft that were purchased over the years since 2013 from foreign operators and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) became concerned that the aircraft may not meet safety standards. The aircraft were previously owned by as many as 16 foreign carriers.
The biggest issue concerned maintenance records for those aircraft. Southwest hired contractors to review maintenance records. The airline also used “authority delegated to it by the FAA to grant certificates that let it carry passengers on the planes,” according to a report by the Associated Press. This concern has been ongoing since 2018 when an inspector found the issues in Southwest’s records for those aircraft. After a thorough review, Southwest discovered 360 major repairs not mentioned by the contractors.
Clayton Foushee, director of the FAA Audit and Evaluation Office said the Southwest inspections showed 30 repairs that were unknown and 42 major repairs that did “not to meet FAA airworthiness requirements.” Some required “immediate corrective action to bring the aircraft back into compliance,” Foushee said. The audit memo added the data collected indicated that “a majority” of the planes in question to be inspected do not meet FAA airworthiness requirements.
When the issues were first discovered in May of 2018, FAA gave Southwest two years to complete the inspections to verify all required maintenance and repairs had been done properly. But in October, the FAA inspector in charge of Southwest said the airline had only evaluated 39 planes, calling it slow to complete the inspections in a letter sent to the company and seeking additional information about those aircraft.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) union released the following statement concerning the Southwest situation: “Recent reporting on Southwest Airlines 88 Skyline Aircraft indicates that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) internal Office of Audit and Evaluation raised issues with the carrier’s failure to ensure conformity with all FAA airworthiness requirements, which is a growing cause of concern to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA)… In our view, these lapses occurred because of Southwest’s choice to prioritize on-time performance over safety,” AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich stated.
Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 Max Saga continues. Some are predicting a return to service for the aircraft in January while others are saying not before March. Southwest’s pilot union issued a letter to its members saying, “Boeing is increasingly publicizing that they may have to shut down their production line due to running out of room to store completed MAX aircraft. There is some concern that this is simply another tactic to push the RTS timeline up, force operators to resume making payments on MAX aircraft, and transfer some costs, logistics, and responsibilities of storing and restoring the MAX to revenue service to respective operators.”
Boeing says there are five key milestones they must complete with the FAA before return to service. The first of the five, the FAA eCab Simulator Certification Session: A multi-day eCab simulator evaluation with the FAA to ensure the overall software system performs its intended function, both normally and in the presence of system failures, was successfully concluded and are now they are working towards the FAA line pilots evaluation and the FAA certification flight test. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulatory authorities as we work towards certification and safe return to commercial service, and we are taking the time to answer all of their questions. With the rigorous scrutiny being applied, we are confident the MAX will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” a Boeing statement says.
Additionally, B737 NGs were found to have cracking in the pickle fork area as has been reported in the recent months. More than 30 aircraft were found to have the cracking sooner than would normally be expected. FAA issued an AD requiring inspections of aircraft prior to the accumulation of 30,000 total flight cycles, or within 7 days after the effective date of the AD and those inspections and corrective actions are underway. Qantas reported finding cracking under 27,000 cycles on two aircraft.
Finally, let me introduce a new feature in the magazine. Safety expert Jeff Guzzetti will be taking a look back at accidents over the years that have had a contributing factor related to maintenance. The first is on page 36.
These are cautionary tales that we can all learn from. Guzzetti, after a career at both the NTSB and FAA, is now heading a safety consulting firm. We are fortunate to have his expertise. Please let us know what you think of the series and if you have any accidents you would like him to include in the series.