Most Americans are probably not aware that major U.S. airlines reportedly send their planes to foreign countries to be repaired in order to save money.
Planes are sent to countries where there are lax inspections, and few of the mechanics have Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) certification or can speak English, according to a recent report by Vanity Fair.
The magazine notes that US Airways and Southwest send their planes to El Salvador, while Delta gets servicing in Mexico, and United has their planes repaired in China. American Airlines does most of its major repairs in the U.S. but that could change now that it has merged with US Airways.
This outsourcing has dropped airline maintenance jobs in U.S. from 72,000 in 2000 to less than 50,000 in 2015.
The FAA is tasked with inspecting 733 certified overseas repair facilities, but the government agency does not have enough people or a big enough budget to do all of these checks. If a FAA official does make it to one of these foreign repair shops, the U.S. has to get permission from the foreign country's government first, which means there are no surprise inspections.
Planes from Air France, US Airways and China Airlines have had mechanical problems after being serviced overseas, Vanity Fair notes. Some mechanics at U.S. airports, who do safety and maintenance checks before a plane leaves, have noted poor work done by overseas mechanics.
In 2013, Congress told the FAA to increase its oversight of airline repairs done in foreign countries per the 2012 aviation authorization (PL 112-95), Roll Call reported at the time.
One big advantage in China is that those airline repair services get government subsidies, and airline companies such as Boeing Co. and Airbus have invested in the country's repair services.
“Although some experts believe that safety is being compromised and the regulation and oversight of foreign repair stations needs to be improved, analyses of recent trends do not provide obvious evidence that maintenance outsourcing has adversely affected airline safety,” the Congressional Research Service reported in December 2012.