Who's fixing that airplane while you're getting groped? 

Every airline passenger knows the drill. Take off your jacket, shoes, watch and jewelry, cram your belongings into a plastic bin and stand in a long security line before meekly submitting to a naked scan or groping by latex-gloved agents of the Transportation Security Administration. Enduring such indignities, we’re repeatedly told, is the price we must pay for safety in the skies.

Yet there’s a very good chance that the mechanics who worked on the plane you’re just about to board weren’t patted down or fingerprinted. They might not have passed a background, drug or alcohol test. In fact, they might not even have a Federal Aviation Administration-approved license.

With the exception of American Airlines, which performs most of its fleet maintenance in the U.S., most of the major U.S.-based carriers outsource maintenance to places like China, El Salvador, Mexico, Chile and the Philippines, where security ranges from lax to nonexistent.  The danger of this widespread industry practice was highlighted in an April 6 report by the Transport Workers of America, Air Transport Division, which pointed out that  “At least one member of Al Qaeda was found working at a major maintenance facility in Singapore in 2003. The faulty procedures that allowed this lapse in security have not been addressed.”

“While billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of work hours are devoted to screening passengers,”  the report went on, “comparatively little effort is made to check on a much smaller group of people who play a critical role in airline safety: the workers who repair and maintain the aircraft of U.S.?based airlines.” It was released five days after a five-foot hole opened in the roof of a Phoenix-bound Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300, forcing an emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz. earlier this month.

The TWU report stated that United Airlines’ 747s, 767s and 777s are routinely overhauled in Beijing by “a staff of over 2,500 unlicensed mechanics, supervised by only five licensed mechanics – a ratio of 500 to 1.”

“At Aeromexico Maintenance in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Delta Airlines has its fleet of over 100 MD80s and MD90s overhauled by more than 550 unlicensed mechanics, who are overseen by less than 50 licensed mechanics – a ratio of 10 to 1,” the TWU report added.

Yet the FAA “rarely” conducts surprise inspections of foreign MROs (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facilities. “I believe the State Department applies pressure on the FAA to leave China alone, since they own over a trillion dollars in U.S. bonds. FAA inspectors don’t really have access there,” former FAA inspector Rick Wyeroski, now a member of the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance, told The Examiner.

“These maintenance shops are inferior and I believe U.S. flag carriers are in harm’s way,” Wyeroski says. “We spend billions each year to keep the flying public safe, yet our aircraft sit literally unprotected in Third World countries with no security. I believe a Congressional investigation is warranted.”

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