U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California), a senior member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, plans to re-introduce legislation this summer that would require carriers to disclose more information about their maintenance activities to the public.
Garamendi introduced the legislation last year under the Committee’s former Republican chairman Bill Shuster, but it didn’t go anywhere. He said he’s hopeful that the Committee’s Democratic leadership will be more receptive to the proposal this time.
“As a person who spends at least 5,000 miles a week on an airplane, I want to know that airplane is well maintained, and I want to know where its maintenance was done, so I can hold that airline accountable,” Garamendi said at the Aircraft Maintenance Outsourcing Summit in Washington, DC on June 4.
The bill would require carriers to display notices providing the public with the location at which aircraft most recently underwent heavy maintenance, as well as the dates of such maintenance. That information would have to be “prominently displayed” on carriers’ websites and boarding documents, and airline workers at the ticket counter would be required to communicate it clearly to passengers.
It is not clear whether the requirement would extend to the component level. During an airframe or engine overhaul, parts are removed and sent to many locations—some in other countries. Many are restored to airworthy condition and re-installed on the aircraft or engine. In many cases, the heavy shop performs less work than the component shops, particularly during engine overhauls, which muddies the idea of pinpointing where a specific overhaul is done.
The congressman said the point of legislation is to “create the pressure to force Congress to force the FAA” to take action on oversight deficiencies with foreign aircraft maintenance stations, adding that staffing, budget and resource constraints at the agency have exacerbated the agency’s challenges. He said the current system whereby FAA alerts countries ahead of time that inspections will take place provides bad actors advance notice to conceal safety risks from the agency’s inspectors.
Speaking candidly, Garamendi said there is a “structural problem” at the FAA posed by the agency’s sometimes contradictory dual mandates of protecting safety while promoting U.S. industry. He suggested separating those two responsibilities, but declined to offer any specifics about what that would look like.
“The FAA has dual responsibility and that dual responsibility is in conflict. The solution relies on separating the responsibilities and giving them to two different organizations; one tasked with safety and the other responsible for the profitability and success of the airline industry,” he said. “We’ve made a choice to allow that conflict to exist within the FAA, which led to 346 people losing their lives because getting [the MAX 8] up and running was more important than getting the issue resolved.”
FAA’s mission once included both ensuring safety and promoting the aviation business, but this was changed via a 1996 congressional mandate. Today, the agency’s stated mission is to "provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world,” its website says.
Its oversight of foreign repair stations—including the practice of providing notice when inspectors are planning mandatory site visits—has come under scrutiny before. Agency officials have explained that, in many cases, they are not permitted to show up unannounced due to local security protocols that are not related to aviation. They also emphasize that their system-safety approach entails examining written processes and procedures that cannot be altered quickly.