Aircraft Accidents and Surveillance Part Four

Aircraft accidents are tragedies; they strike without warning and the innocent are not immune. But what I’ve found while working for the NTSB is that a greater tragedy is not learning from an accident, that allowing it to repeat itself is an even greater tragedy still.
Last week I wrote that an organization with limited resources such as the FAA has, cannot be expected to oversee the vast multitudes of pilots that report to one major airline with only fifty to sixty inspectors. The number of airworthiness (maintenance) (A/W) inspectors at the same FAA certificate office is equal to that of the Operations inspectors – fifty or sixty. But while an airline’s pilots may number in the thousands, an airline’s mechanics and maintenance personnel may number in the tens of thousands, all answerable to fifty or sixty inspectors working nine-to-five, five days a week.
This is not an exaggeration.
An airline’s mechanic seniority list often runs into the thousands; the company decides how many according to factors, e.g. the number of wide-bodies and/or narrow-bodies. They are then broken down into departments, e.g. Hangar, Flight Line, Avionics, etc. The departments, e.g. line maintenance, are broken down even further into base line and field line, which consists of perhaps two or as many as eighty mechanics per airport, depending on how many flights and fleet model assigned. With a worldwide airline, the number of airports increase and are spread through dozens of countries across the globe.
That’s hardly tens of thousands.
Now add contract maintenance and vendors. Heavy maintenance may be accomplished anywhere in the world the airline arranges for it. Large numbers of maintenance personnel will service a wide-body airliner’s heavy check. Hundreds of vendor employees are responsible for the myriad of aircraft parts: actuators, flight controls, avionics equipment, etc. The FAA’s A/W inspectors are responsible for these contractors and vendors contracted to perform maintenance on the aircraft.
In the late 1990s an aircraft crashed due to negligence on the part of a vendor; in the early 2000s another fatal crash caused by vendor negligence and then again three years later for the same reason. In all, 134 lives were lost from the same cause within ten years.
Not learning from the accident? That … is the tragedy.

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