's regulation of aircraft maintenance and repair stations is in need of widespread improvement, including better trained inspectors and risk identification strategies, according to a report from the Department of Transportation's Inspector General.
According to the report, major U.S. airlines have increased their dependence on contract aircraft maintenance over the past 15 years in an attempt to cut costs and maximize profitability. Spending for contract maintenance increased by nearly $2.7 billion during that time period, according to OIG.
However, repair station inspectors have not been trained properly, and the agency's system of identifying risk does not target stations that are most likely to present safety risks to the airlines that contract them to maintain their fleets.
In 2003, OIG reported flaws in FAA
's oversight of these independent repair stations, which prompted the agency to launch a new process of standardized "risk-based oversight" of these stations. The audit report released last week was conducted to evaluate FAA's progress on improving its oversight since the original flaws were discovered.
"Despite FAA's efforts, its oversight emphasizes completing mandatory inspections instead of targeting resources to where they are needed based on risk," OIG said in the report. "Further, FAA's risk assessment tool was designed to only include the prior year's inspection data. As a result, inspectors cannot conduct trend analysis due to insufficient historical data."
As part of the audit, OIG reviewed 119 randomly selected work orders issued by inspectors for aircraft repair stations, and found that 57 of the work orders contained errors, including inadequate maintenance procedure training, use of tools with expired calibration due dates and inaccurate work order documentation.
The oversight is worse at foreign repair stations, where inspectors are instructed to inspect the stations annually "regardless of risk," according to OIG.
OIG recommended FAA implement a risk-based system for oversight of foreign repair stations and modify its existing risk assessment tool so inspectors can document changes in real-time, among several other recommendations.
In its response to OIG's audit, FAA cited its development of a new oversight system, the Safety Assurance System (SAS) which will directly address recommendations issued in the audit. FAA officials plan on implementing SAS in fiscal year 2015, while also undergoing interim actions to address the safety concerns immediately.
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