Sky Talk

FAA is investigating American for maintenance issues, union says

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating American Airlines for possible maintenance procedure violations after a local mechanics union complained to the agency.

The Transport Workers Union Local 591 has alleged that American management has pressured mechanices to cut corners on maintenance in order to get airplanes back in the air faster. The union filed a lawsuit last month saying the Fort Worth-based carrier has compromised public safety.

One of the incidents described in the lawsuit is now being investigated by the FAA, the union said.

"As a result of our investigation, we have determined a violation of the Code of Federal regulations may h ave occurred," said an FAA letter, dated January 29.

The letter, which is posted to the union website, says the agency will continue its investigation and will take the "necessary corrective action." The FAA said it is looking at American’s decision to remove quality control and inspectors from the responsibility of "B-checks" on widebody aircraft.

TWU Local 591 president Gary Peterson sent a letter to American chief executive Doug Parker, asking Parker to meet with union representatives to discuss the maintenance issues and alleged intimidation from managers.

"Since the filing of the lawsuit, we have made repeated requests that the company disavow its use of surveillance and threats in response to Local 591’s safety-related representation efforts," the letter said. "These requests have met with no response."

UPDATE: American responded to Peterson with the following letter from David Seymour, senior vice president for technical operations on Friday night.

Gary –

I want to address the issues raised in your recent letter to Doug Parker, and to provide you with specific contacts with whom you can discuss these issues.

I’ll start by addressing the issues you’ve raised regarding safety and, again, assure you that we share the same top priority – the safety of our employees and customers.

American Airlines is an industry leader in the development of our robust Safety Management System, which helps us manage risk in a data-driven and proactive way. Our SMS is certified to the highest level (Level IV) by FAA, and bi-annual independent audits also confirm that our program operates to the highest global industry standard. It’s also supported vigorously by our senior management because it helps us run a safe airline.

A couple of the people who I’d invite you to visit with about our safety program, including SMS, are Paul Morell and Callie Choat. As you know, Paul is Vice President – Safety, Security and Environmental Programs. He has responsibility for the development, implementation, maintenance, and oversight of SMS policy, including day-to-day administration of our SMS. Callie is Managing Director – Safety Assurance and Environmental Programs. She is responsible for the policies, processes, and procedures in the SMS Manual. As you know, the Tech Ops area has two Operation Standards Boards which are designed specifically to ensure that safety risks are identified and addressed, and to ensure that senior management is aware of anything that impacts safety. 

Safety concerns can also be raised by individual employees through the company’s ASAP program, which are then assessed by an Event Review Committee that includes representatives from the company, the TWU, and the FAA. In short, to the extent that you, Local 591, or any of your members have concerns regarding safety, the company has an avenue to address those concerns. I invite you to schedule time with Paul and Callie, who welcome the opportunity to sit down with you to discuss the SMS.

Many of the other issues raised in your letter should be addressed through the grievance and arbitration process provided in the TWU’s collective bargaining agreement. This process is mandated by the Railway Labor Act, which grants the System Board of Adjustment exclusive authority to resolve contractual and discipline disputes that the TWU and company could not resolve through less formal means. 

The company works daily with TWU locals, including Local 591, to resolve grievances before they are arbitrated at the System Board. If no resolution can be reached, the company and TWU meet monthly before a neutral arbitrator for contractual cases, and multiple times per month for discipline and discharge cases. This contractual process fosters a cooperative approach that more often than not leads to resolution of our differences. If we cannot reach a resolution, a neutral arbitrator can assist.

Jim Weel in our labor relations group is available to discuss any questions and concerns you have about the grievance and arbitration process. In the meantime, we’d encourage the TWU to use the contractual grievance and arbitration process, as it is intended, to address your concerns.

I’d like to clear up some things about the procedures associated with an ongoing FAA inquiry. You mention a handful of FAA letters of investigation (LOIs), and seem to assume that LOIs are tantamount to FAA findings of violations. As you know, the airline industry is heavily regulated, and it is routine for the FAA to independently and objectively evaluate concerns such as those that you have raised. The company is in the midst of providing comprehensive responses to the FAA inquiries, but, so far, the FAA has not advised us of any significant violations or findings. We have a transparent relationship with the FAA, which we view as a partner in our mutual goal to run a safe airline. Myles Nichols, managing director for Quality, Continuing Analysis and Surveillance System, and Training, is available to discuss these issues.

You’ve also claimed that members of my management team have compromised safety by threatening mechanics – and that there’s been no response to your requests that the company "disavow" these tactics. We could not disagree more. We do not tolerate or condone any behavior that could cause an employee to feel threatened or that could compromise our commitment to safety. Since you’ve raised concerns about how the maintenance group is managed, however, let’s set up a time for you to discuss those concerns with me and Paul Wroble.

Lastly, you mentioned the litigation that you initiated a few weeks ago.  As we have indicated previously, we view the lawsuit as meritless.

I hope you’ll accept the invitation to talk directly with our safety and labor folks, as well as me and Paul. I look forward to your call.