More than 900 aircraft maintenance and repair stations have been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) outside of the United States. The number of these facilities has grown by more than 30% in the past four years. These foreign repair stations are located all around the globe including China (78 facilities), Singapore (54), Brazil (22), Thailand (6), Costa Rica (3), and El Salvador (2).
While all U.S.-registered aircraft are required to be maintained to the same standards, regardless of where maintenance work is performed, work done outside of the U.S. is NOT being held to this statutory requirement. This work is subject to fewer regulations and lower safety standards.
Regulations that foreign aircraft maintenance is exempt from include:
Security background checks for workers
Risk-based safety and security evaluations for facilities
Drug and alcohol testing
Unannounced FAA inspections
FAA certification standards for mechanics and technicians
These safety gaps have created a structural incentive for airlines to move maintenance work outside of the U.S. and onto a lower safety standard.
Congress has previously directed the FAA to address several of these issues through rulemakings. Despite these statutory requirements, which go back as far as 2012, the FAA has yet to initiate any regulatory changes in this area.
Work performed in these facilities is significantly less safe than work performed in the U.S. American mechanics, technicians, and pilots have been alarmed by poor and incorrect maintenance on aircraft maintained outside of the U.S. including:
Critical engine components held together with tape and wire;
Parts on the aircraft exterior doors installed incorrectly, leading to mid-flight cabin depressurization;
Aircraft covered with flammable paint; and
Drug smuggling in aircraft noses, wheel wells, avionics, and lavatory panels.
As aircraft add more software and interconnectivity onboard, this lower safety standard has the possibility of opening our skies up to dangerous cyber-attacks. Without proper background checks and security requirements for the workers maintaining these aircraft, we are needlessly exposing our skies to increased security hazards.
Due to the decreased levels of regulatory scrutiny, airlines have already moved more than 8,200 maintenance jobs abroad. Many of these jobs are likely to return to the U.S. if the same safety standard applied universally.