MAINTAINING U.S. PLANES AT A HIGH LEVEL
A recent BUSINESS WEEK article wrongly suggests that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification and testing requirements for aircraft-maintenance personnel are lax ("A greater threat than terrorism?" Government, Sept. 9). There are many who find this conclusion flawed, including the more than 400,000 maintenance personnel who meet the FAA's rigorous qualifications to work on the aircraft that safely transport more than 500 million Americans over 500 billion miles each year.
Nowhere in the world are the standards and qualifications to work on aircraft more rigorous than in the U.S. Maintenance schools must have a curriculum that contains at least 1,900 hours of instruction per student. In addition, every person who applies for a mechanic's certificate must pass an extensive written test and then is given a practical exam by an FAA examiner. The process, while tough, has been proved to provide proper preparation and skills to earn the mechanic's certificate.
The article unfortunately used hyperbole as a substitute for fact. In accidents where maintenance was cited as a probable cause, the article implied that work on these aircraft may have been done by unqualified or improperly certified mechanics. The FAA is not aware of any accident ever being attributed to an improperly certified mechanic.
Furthermore, through hundreds of thousands of surprise and scheduled inspections, the FAA is continually on the job to ensure that airline mechanics are qualified. We have a toll-free hotline that accepts anonymous tips from passengers, workers on the job, and anyone else who suspects that mechanics may not measure up. If a mechanic does not meet the FAA's strict requirements, the agency will not hesitate to take action. The fact is, those who meet the FAA's impressive standards to work on passenger aircraft are the best trained and most qualified in aviation history. They provide U.S. travelers with by far the safest and most efficient air-transportation system in the world.
David R. Hinson
Federal Aviation Administration
After spending 29 years working in the aviation field for the U.S. Air Force, I feel there is plenty of blame to go around. It should not be directed only to the mechanics and inspectors who are doing their jobs. Others include corporate presidents who must produce more profit, investors who want more return on their investment dollars, and government officials who take the teeth out of aviation regulations.
Government officials, mechanics, inspectors, corporate presidents, and investors fly, too. We all need to remember one thing: At 30,000 feet, it is a long way down.
George C. Hanna III
I would like to see the present system replaced by one in which mechanics are qualified by aircraft type. In addition to the basic license, mechanics would have to attend school for each aircraft type and pass a comprehensive written, practical, and oral examination before being qualified to work on that plane. Recurrent training, with examinations, should also be mandatory. Such a system might be considered prohibitively expensive by some, but, after all, multimillion-dollar aircraft and hundreds of lives are at stake.
Coral Springs, Fla.
You do a disservice to the members of the armed forces who are trying to enter civilian society when you question the aircraft-maintenance training provided by military schools.
The military trainees attend some of the finest aviation-maintenance schools in the world. They are taught their skills according to standards to which any civilian school should aspire.
Military aircraft operate on the same principles of physics as civilian aircraft, and in fact, were built by the same manufacturers. If a mechanic can fix a turbine engine for the Air Force, he or she can do the same thing for a civilian maintenance firm, and probably do it better than someone with a certificate from a diploma mill.
So, in which plane would you rather fly? The one maintained by a civilian with a certificate from some little-known school and little or no practical experience, or the one maintained by the mechanic who fixed Air Force One?
James B. Hubbard
Director of Economics
In three pages on air-safety threats, you devote only half a sentence to what you term "simple" human error. You neglect to mention that fatigue and its impact on decision-making are perhaps the single greatest causes of human error. Aircraft mechanics, like others in the transportation industry, work long hours and have irregular schedules that make obtaining adequate sleep difficult. Until the FAA and the airlines take the cost-effective countermeasures that are available, fatigue-induced human error will continue to threaten air safety.
Edward H. Coburn
Cambridge, Mass.Return to top