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Report faults FAA on airline maintenance

WASHINGTON – Nine major U.S. airlines are farming out aircraft maintenance at twice the rate of four years ago and now hire outside contractors for more than 70 percent of major work, the government says. Contractors overseas handled one-quarter of the outsourced maintenance.

At the same time, U.S. oversight of repair facilities is lagging, the Transportation Department’s inspector general found. Investigators said the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to closely track how much maintenance is outsourced and where it is performed.

Although the FAA has taken steps to improve, “the agency still faces challenges in determining where the most critical maintenance occurs and ensuring sufficient oversight,” investigators said in the report this past week.

In airlines’ effort to lower costs, the report said, they continue to shift heavy airframe maintenance from in-house mechanics and engineers to hundreds of repair companies in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America and Asia.

Nine major airlines examined outsourced 71 percent of their heavy airframe work – repairs and servicing to an aircraft’s body, wings and tail – in 2007, compared with 34 percent in 2003.

The airlines examined were AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, America West Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.