News Station's Aircraft Mechanics Probe

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"There is evidence of repair facilities hiring low-wage mechanics who can't read," alleges Dallas/Fort Worth-area news station WFAA. The station has been investigating the way the FAA licenses aircraft mechanics and believes it has found "evidence of years of problems in testing these mechanics" and evidence that "hundreds of mechanics" are working with "questionable licenses" in Texas and elsewhere. While previously citing improperly regulated testing at St. George Aviation Testing Center in Florida in 1999, the latest assertions stem from the station's conclusion that "hundreds of the mechanics" working at 236 FAA-certified aircraft repair stations in Texas do not speak English and therefore can't read aircraft repair manuals. And while "one certified A&P can sign off on the work of dozens of uncertified mechanics," says WFAA, "there is a push to get work out the door." WFAA's recent article on the topic goes on to cite a fatal commuter plane crash (that it does not connect with foreign-language mechanics, but with improper oversight of the repair process); difficulties with foreign pilot licensing; and a licensing center in San Antonio (since closed by the FAA) where, it alleges, mechanics were being tested in Spanish. Certified mechanics quoted in the article note the challenges of working with their foreign-speaking non-certified counterparts.

While noting that repairs performed by any person at a repair facility must ultimately be signed off by a certified A&P mechanic who then takes responsibility for the repair, WFAA found one mechanic who anonymously explained his (or her) difficulty. "I need an interpreter to talk to these people," he (or she) said. "They can't read the manuals, they can't write, and I have so many working for me I can't be sure of the work they've done." WFAA appears to suggest that time and schedule pressures that come as a byproduct of working with commercial aircraft can prevent certified mechanics from properly overseeing work performed by dozens of untrained assisting mechanics who can't read the manuals or write down what they've done -- and that not all certified mechanics have experienced proper training.