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FAA fails to oversee airline repairs effectively, jeopardizing safety: watchdog

By Phillip Swarts

Monday - 5/6/2013, 8:31pm  ET

Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors are doing a poor job of policing aircraft repair facilities, leaving passengers vulnerable to risks such as faulty parts, the U.S. Transportation Department's internal watchdog has found.

The new warning comes five years after similar concerns were raised about FAA's ability to oversee aircraft repairs, and the latest review found little has changed.

“FAA’s oversight of foreign and domestic repair stations lacks the rigor needed to identify deficiencies and verify that they have been addressed,” the DOT's inspector general reported.

Investigators found that FAA inspectors were poorly trained, failed to correctly evaluate repair station work and were willing to accept risks. One inspector, for example, took a repair station’s word that it was  improving despite the fact the station didn’t keep a list of required training for mechanics for three years running.

“Uncorrected maintenance deficiencies such as these could lead to the use of improperly repaired aircraft parts on U.S. air carriers,” the IG warned.

FAA, the nation's aviation safety watchdog, agreed with the inspector general's suggestions to update its rules on repair station inspections.  The agency added it has been improving oversight of repair stations and working to ensure all possible risks are addressed.

“The FAA has a rigorous, risk-based system of oversight for repair stations and is taking action to rectify performance gaps that contributed to the issues identified in the OIG draft report,” a letter from the agency said.

The FAA has been trying to improve its oversight of repair stations after reports in 2003 and 2008 found the stations had been doing poor repair work that wasn’t up to standards.

The FAA oversees nearly 4,800 aircraft repair stations all around the world which are used by U.S. air carriers.  The IG evaluated a random sample of 27 repairs stations in the U.S., China, Brazil, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.