All whitewashed! Concern about American Airlines maintenance shared with FAA

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How safe is American Airlines. eTN had asked this question a number of times after having received numerous complaints in regards to pressure put by AA management to make American Airlines maintenace workers to sign off on aircrafts, that are really not airworthy at the time.

Today attorney Lee Seham of Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen in White Plains, New York told eTN: “All whitewashed! Seham is claiming the FAA was dismissing a report made by their own inspectors without any explanation.”

The following letter by Lee Sehams law firm was delivered today by FEDEX to Mr. Reginald C. Govan, Office of the Chief Counsel Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20591

Re: American Airlines Maintenance-Related Enforcement Investigations

Dear Mr. Govan:

The deterioration of American Airlines’ (AA) maintenance safety culture has been well documented by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On May 31, 2013, United States Bankruptcy Court Judge Sean H. Lane approved an AA/FAA settlement reducing FAA-proposed fines of $156,506,575.00 to $24,000,000 based, in part, on AA’s humiliating acceptance of the necessity of providing “In Accordance With” (IAW) training to the carrier’s entire maintenance and engineering staff. In short, the FAA determined that a major training overhaul was necessary in order to ensure that AA performed its aircraft maintenance in a lawful manner.

With the ink barely dry on the AA/FAA settlement agreement, the FAA issued a finding dated March 25, 2015, substantiating that the six complainants in the above-referenced matter had identified violations of federal aviation standards. Among the allegations in the underlying complaint, dated October 6, 2014, was that AA Regional Maintenance Director Evita Rodriguez had been pressuring Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) to document as completed maintenance work that had not been performed.

The shocked FAA Inspectors opened twenty-one (21) enforcement investigative reports (EIRs) and frequently referenced the likelihood of substantial fines and the urgent need to repair aircraft flying passengers in an unairworthy condition.

Nevertheless, your letters of March 3, 2016, and March 25, 2016, report – without explanation – that 19 of 21 EIRs have been closed with “no action” and that only two have resulted in letters of correction. In the former letter, in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, you warned that “the FAA routinely withholds from release inspectors’ analyses, recommendations, and opinions under exemption” from requesting parties.

Consistent with your warning, we have received only a trickle of information from the FAA concerning this matter; however, even that trickle confirms the abdication of the agency’s core mission of promoting aviation safety.

We write to request your assistance in mitigating the damage inflicted by the FAA, and you individually, on safe maintenance practices at American Airlines, Inc. (AA). Specifically, we request that you provide an explanation as to why the FAA took “no action” with respect to these 19 EIRs. We also seek the immediate release of the inspectors’ files relating to these EIRs so that we can properly communicate to the airline’s AMTs that, despite the FAA’s ultimate inaction, the underlying incidents generally reflect unsafe and unlawful maintenance practices.

Unfortunately, the FAA’s inaction and secretiveness has vitiated the benefit of the court-ordered AA/FAA settlement agreement of 2013. Supervisors feel free to pressure AMTs to cut corners and conscientious AMTs are openly referred by management as members of ISIS. We need full disclosure of the inspectors’ report to assist us in remediating the profound damage to the AA maintenance culture inflicted by the FAA’s handling of this matter.

FAA Enforcement Data

Your correspondence of March 3 and March 25 failed to identify which of the EIRs had been closed without action. We have since obtained via FOIA a document entitled Enforcement Data that specifies, by case number, 17 EIRs that are marked CLOSED with NO ACTION. (Attachment A).

We have paired each EIR case number with information obtained from an NPTRS Query System describing, in summary fashion, the findings of the FAA inspector. (Attachment B). In only two of the 17 cases did there appear to be any rationale for a NO ACTION determination.

In each case, we are requesting (a) an explanation for the FAA’s NO ACTION determination despite the inspector’s findings, and (b) the disclosure of the full inspector’s report.

2015SO670012

The summary inspector report comments that the aircraft was returned to service without properly completing the Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM) procedure, due to the fact that “[t]he Manager pressured the AMT into partial completion.” On its face, the report reflects that the aircraft flew airline passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 3).

2015SO670013

The summary inspector report comments that the aircraft was returned to service using an improper Engineering Authorization (EA) document and that the AMT was pressured to use the EA even though it did not adequately cover the documented damage. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew airline passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 2).

2015SO670014

The summary inspector report comments that no remedial action or inspection was taken with respect to documented lightning strike damage. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 1).

2015SO670018

The summary inspector report comments that no remedial action or inspection was taken with respect to documented lightning strike damage. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 4). See footnote 2.

2015SO670019

The summary inspector report comments that AA Manager Jurewicz pressured an AMT to return an aircraft to service using a defective EA for radome repair that did not correctly reference the Structural Repair Manual (SRM). Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 6).

2015SO670028

The summary inspector report comments that AA documentation states “damage acceptable” despite the fact that multiple cracks in the aft fuselage drain tube and attaching base plate exceeded the damage limits specified in the American Airlines Repair Document (AARD). A Field Engineering Authorization (FEA) was issued authorizing AARD limits to be exceeded, but it is unclear at what stage in the aircraft’s deployment the FEA was issued. (Attachment B at 7). In addition, the summary report does not reflect the pressure exerted on AMTs to release the aircraft into revenue service without the requisite FEA.

2015SO670036

An earlier FOIA request resulted in the disclosure of the attached inspector’s findings, which report the release of an aircraft with a crack in the aircraft’s right engine inlet acoustic panel on the grounds that the damage was “within operational limits” despite the fact that the AMM required repair for all cracks. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment D).

2015SO670031

The summary inspector report states only that the “investigation has been completed and forwarded to legal for processing.” (Attachment B at 11). We have no information about the nature of enforcement investigation or why the inspector concluded that it was appropriate to forward the matter to legal for processing. Reviewed in context with the other EIR summaries, it would appear reasonable to conclude that the inspector’s referral of the matter to “legal” reflects the inspector’s expectation that further enforcement action would be taken.

2015SO670032

The summary inspector report comments that, despite the fact that lightning strike damage was identified, no lightning strike inspection was performed. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 12).

2015SO670033

As with EIR 2015SO670031, the summary inspector report states only that the “investigation has been completed and forwarded to legal for processing.” (Attachment B at 13). We have no information about the nature of enforcement investigation or why the inspector concluded that it was appropriate to forward the matter to legal for processing. Reviewed in context with the other EIR summaries, it would appear reasonable to conclude that the inspector’s referral of the matter to “legal” reflects the inspector’s expectation that further enforcement action would be taken.
2015SO670035

The summary inspector report comments that AA personnel, including the Manager in Charge of Maintenance, was releasing aircraft without ensuring that “the aircraft with identified lightning strike damage were inspected in accordance with [AA’s] approved maintenance program. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 15).

2015SO670041
The summary inspector report comments that an inspection of reported lightning strike damage to aircraft N946AN was required but not performed. Here again, the report reflects that the aircraft flew passengers in an unairworthy condition. (Attachment B at 14).

2015SO670042

The summary inspector report comments that, in order to meet the airline flight schedule, Manager Paul Richard Irvin pressured an AMT to approve for return to service an aircraft without completing the required maintenance procedure for the reported discrepancy.
(Attachment B at 16).

2015SO670043

The summary inspector report comments that the Boeing 777 was towed to an international gate for a scheduled departure without the aircraft minimum fuel load for hydraulic cooling. (Attachment B at 17). The violation of ground handling checklist procedure subjected the hydraulic system to potential damage prior its scheduled international departure.

2015SO670044

The summary inspector report addresses the same incident as EIR 2015SO670043, but, as indicated by the Enforcement Data document, this EIR is brought against AA Regional Manager Evita Rodriguez. (Attachment A at 3; Attachment B at 18). As alleged in our clients’ initial complaint, AA Regional Manager Evita Rodriguez is the same individual who has urged AMTs to document maintenance they did not perform. The FAA has never interviewed Manager Rodriguez regarding these allegations.

As explained above, the FAA’s inaction and secretiveness have subverted the very IAW maintenance compliance program imposed on AA pursuant to federal court order. In order to address the damage that thereby inflicted on aviation safety, we request for each of the “no action” EIRs: (a) an explanation for the FAA’s NO ACTION determination despite the inspector’s findings, and (b) the disclosure of the full inspector’s report.

Sincerely,
Lee Seham

cc: Representative Jan Schakowsky
Senator Tammy Baldwin
Alex Burkett, Esq. – Counsel, House Subcommittee on Aviation
Matt Stoller – Senior Advisor, United States Senate Budget Committee
Lou E. Dixon, Assistant Inspector General, Office of Inspector General
Scott Harding, Chief, Complaint Center Operations, Office of Inspector General