American Pilots See Spike In Maintenance Issues


While all the attention seems to have been on United Airlines, American pilots say they, too, are seeing a lot more maintenance issues since the airline reduced routine inspections. The Allied Pilots Association sent an email to its members over the weekend saying it has been “tracking a significant spike in safety- and maintenance-related problems in our operation” and asked them to report anything they’ve noticed. “We all understand that aviation accidents are the result of a chain of events—often a series of errors—and catching just one of those errors could prevent a tragedy,” the union said in the email.

The union said American has reduced the frequency of routine inspections and it’s also cut back on overnight maintenance checks. Rather than giving idle aircraft a routine once-over, maintenance staff only respond to squawks. It also said the airline now does “abbreviated” flight tests after major maintenance or a long period of storage. Union spokesman Dennis Tajer said he’s been talking to American executives about the pilots’ concerns and they seem to be listening. “We fully intend to do everything we can to assure that American maintains strong margins of safety,” he told the Dallas NBC affiliate.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • A reasonable observation. the more times you open a cowling or inspection panel the more chances of “someone” not securing them properly. Things need to be examined in a well reasoned timeframe to uncover problems. Now tell me how and when are autopilot and flight director computers scrutinized and certified good for flight prior to failure? Here are electronic machines connected to control and display systems that are always assumed to be serviceable until they aren’t. yes, wtf?

      • This is incorrect. There are very comprehensive diagnostics tests for all the electronic and software components of commercial airplanes (heck, you even have those in cars today!). I have no idea when or at what frequency these tests are carried on though, I suppose this is also based on airline policy following (or not) manufacturer guidance.
        At any rate, they will almost always catch any discrepancy coming from failed/failing hardware (whether it’s from board components or a sensor), or a software bug following an update.

        • I’m afraid you have been misled about the abilities of diagnostics in finding faults in circuits as any single component can and does fail at any given time. That’s why there are multiple backup systems built in. However, if you took the time to research failures in “fly by wire” systems, you will find most electrical failures or incidents are not caused by hard components, but software glitches that cannot be found until certain perameters are met. Diagnositcs can only tell you what it is programed to check. It will not predict a mechanical failure of a component in an aircraft or your car. Tires falling off, cowlings disappearing, windscreen breaking in flight, nose gear turned 90 degrees, bird ingestions, metal issues, (PW GTF engines) and of course, doors blowing out. All very recent issues that “diagonstics” and ground inspections could never predict. Face it folks. Flying is not a 100% safe mode of transprotation! And it never will be.

          • I’m here to tell ya that I agree, Joe. I spent many years involved w flight test at Edwards AFB. THESE days, most of the testing centers around not only software operability but also interoperability of systems that need to talk together. And much of this started when FlyByWire became the standard way of doing things.

      • I’d also say that those electronics have multiple redundancies. And why did they have inspections in the first place if they were unnecessary? I can’t help but be suspicious of boardrooms making financial decisions and trade off safety- I guess the 737 Max debacle is still fresh in my mind

  1. I’d want to know why a reduction in overnight maintenance checks and routine maintenance was directed in the first place. Also, how they can order “abbreviated” flight checks after major maintenance. If these actions are directed by the manufacturer or agreed upon with the FAA as a part of their certificates, it’s not up to American to cut back on these actions. And if American was doing extra checks but now is cutting back, then I’d want to know what their reasoning was. I’ll add my wtf as a maintainer.

    If these reductions have increased the number of maintenance issues that pilots are seeing, then I’d say … ‘Squawk ’em’ … don’t just talk about it. Any good PIC has a duty and responsibility to do that. And if American is telling pilots NOT to … that’s even worse. This news would be enough to steer me away from flying with this Airline.

  2. This has been going on in the airlines for quite a while and not just at AA. In the military, maintenance folks perform what is called a ‘thru-flight inspection’ which is performed in between sorties and supplement more thorough hourly inspections, and it is documented in the logbook. This brief but important type of inspection is a good tool to catch items that may have just popped up or identify items not previously caught. This is a rare occurrence in the airline world as most aircraft chock in, get refueled, maybe get pilot reported discrepancies worked, and then off to the next flight numbered mission.

  3. It must contract negotiation time again. I give no credence to any union report. If there are issues, there are methods of reporting it to the proper authorities. The FAA! Not the local NBC affiliate.

  4. I kinda agree, the more you open a cowling, the more chance of later mishap. Annual inspections for GA are notorious for the first flight after the inspection something going wrong, sometimes something very serious . I think if it ain’t broke don’t fix it for the many just routine, non issue causing parts of airplanes. To strip it down to look at no trouble making components, I wished they would just keep their hands off my flying machine.

  5. I think you guys are all on the wrong track. The media wants to blame Boeing, the pilots want to blame the airline management, we all want to be irritated at someone. We are the problem. Parenting/mentoring is what is really lacking, and its getting worse. We want to be traveling, bragging, attention-seeking, posting, crunching numbers, playing video games, checking stock prices, etc. Meanwhile things are not getting physically engineered, manufactured or maintained in our own backyard. The Greatest Generation would be shocked by our capabilities and low standards. In our aviation arena, so much was written about the pilot shortage, while the (capable) technician shortage was rising up to bite us. Do you have an idea how many A&P students that graduate from their program are actually completing the FAA writtens and O&P’s to obtain their certificate? It’s pretty bad. Not to mention the percentage that actually get to their “graduation day”.
    Think about that the next time you are about to hand over your iPhone to a 3 year-old to play a video game. Hand her a wrench or a tape measure so she can operate in the real world. apologies for the rant.

    • I’ve been “screaming” this at the EAA Annual membership meeting every year because I view the annual meeting EAA has with FAA as THE single most important venue for effecting change. Literally in the shadow of Oshkosh, there’s a shortage of maintainers. How the hell could that be. And folks who get their A&P’s and or IA’s don’t generally gravitate to GA unless they’re either old or retired and want to keep their hand in it. This IS a major problem NOW.

    • Coming from the airline maintenance world I can tell you that we need the wrench and tape measure skills, but we need the iPhone / electronics skills too. Both have value on modern airplanes.

  6. MIFs…maintenance induced failures. I’ve had my share including access plates being left off the bottom of the fuselage

  7. The Maintenance checks in question are still required by Boeing and the FAA. The checks may be pushed out to a drop-dead time, but they are still required. I think it is a better policy to look the aircraft over on an overnight than do nothing, but it won’t last. Once the pilot squawks increase maintenance will be directed to be more proactive.

  8. Interesting that frequently fact-challenged folks at ALPA and Allied seem to know more about “maintenance” scheduling and requirements than my friends in UAW and Teamsters who are still there and still working for peanuts (compared to the flyboys). If you told me that there are more mistakes….well, maybe., especially in D.I.L. The A&P’s are carrying the same load with fewer folks – not an excuse, but maybe a contributing factor.

    Please pass the salt – I have to take a grain.

  9. The flyboys work on a 6 month contract called the “Aviation medical”. Lose it and see how you feel.

  10. The suggestion that American Airlines reduced maintenance most likely will increase passenger fears, potentially affecting their choice of airlines. Not good.