- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. safety inspectors are generally unable to conduct unannounced inspections of foreign repair stations where most airlines send their planes for major repair work, and sometimes must cancel inspections for lack of funds, according to a government watchdog.

Federal Aviation Administration inspectors are required to give countries where the repairs stations are located advance notice of their plans, and often notice to the repair stations and the country’s aviation safety agency as well, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office.

While FAA inspectors complained that they’ve had to cancel inspections because of the agency’s tight travel budget, the GAO said it couldn’t confirm the assertions because the FAA said doesn’t keep separate data on travel expenditures for oversight of foreign repair stations.

Airlines typically perform routine maintenance on planes themselves, but planes are generally sent to outside repair stations for major aircraft or engine overhauls.

The report also criticized the FAA for not collecting data from airlines on the amount of work that’s performed at both foreign and domestic repair stations, saying the information could significantly enhance the agency’s oversight. The FAA responded that the volume of repairs to U.S. registered planes at particular repair stations doesn’t reflect whether there is a safety risk.

The GAO also recommended the FAA take steps to better measure the effectiveness of its repair station oversight, which the agency agreed to do.

“Yet again, the GAO confirms that there are weaknesses and gaps in the FAA’s oversight of foreign repair stations,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who requested the report. “How many watchdog reports do we need before the federal government will act to ensure that work done at low-cost foreign repair stations is up to our standards?”

The FAA oversees safety at 4,030 domestic and 716 foreign U.S.-certificated aircraft repair stations. Europe has the greatest number of foreign repair stations, 423, followed by Asia, 112; Africa, 60; Mexico and Central America, 38; South America, 34; the Middle East, 32; Australia, 12; and New Zealand, 5.

FAA regulations don’t require foreign repair stations to conduct drug and alcohol testing on mechanics and other employees who work on planes at foreign repair stations, although such testing is required of employees at repair stations in the U.S.

Under an aviation law passed by Congress in 2012, the FAA must issue regulations requiring drug and alcohol testing of employees at foreign repair stations. The agency has indicated its intention to do that, but its timetable doesn’t call for proposing the regulations until May 2017. It will take months, and perhaps years, before they become final. Several countries have opposed the testing requirements.

Under another aviation law passed by Congress earlier this month, the FAA is also supposed to issue regulations requiring security background checks of employees working at foreign repair stations.


Follow Joan Lowy at twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy. Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/joan-lowy

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