Airline mechanics say they feel compelled by management to look away when they see potential safety issues in aircraft, reveals an eight-month survey conducted by CBS News. In some cases, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has agreed to these mechanics.
The US aviation system is experiencing an unprecedented period of safety, with only one passenger airline fatality over the last decade. But in our interviews with more than two dozen airline mechanics, they talk about the pressure to turn planes faster, which can sometimes be too much, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. They attribute this situation to the economic reality of the air sector: an airplane only brings money back to an airline company when it carries passengers.
The cell phone video captured an intense exchange between an American Airlines mechanic and a manager in 2017.
"We are an accident waiting," could we hear the mechanic.
The FAA found reason to believe that a Miami-based mechanic had been retaliated after reporting problems putting several aircraft at a standstill.
"You choose a guy because he does his job, and all of us? What will happen to us when we do our job?" the mechanic can be heard saying.
Gary Santos, a longtime American Airlines mechanic based in New York, has described it as "a shortened environment". He said that he was risking his job by talking to the camera.
"They are trying to put pressure on the individual so that he does not write it down," Santos said.
"They prefer that you do not report a maintenance problem?" Van Cleave asked.
"Good," Santos replied.
Although a sometimes tense relationship between management and mechanics is not uncommon, each of the 26 airline mechanics we spoke to – two-thirds of American and the others from Southwest Airlines – said have been pressured by managers to focus solely on assigned work.
"If you work, for example, on a landing gear, that you lubricate it, and you notice that a flap comes out, and you write the flap leak, you're beyond your scope, "said a mechanic.
Their claims are corroborated by findings of several FAA denunciations of inappropriate pressure and retaliation since 2015 by both airlines – and at least 32 other anonymous reports at the industry level between 2015 and 2015. and 2018.
"I saw people leaving work, being suspended for a month or longer because they had reported problems that they were not supposed to find," said the mechanic.
Several American mechanics – all with decades of work – spoke on the condition of not showing their faces, saying that they feared reprisals.
"You constantly have people on your shoulder wondering why it takes so long.We can not skip a few steps?" Said another mechanic.
"Have you had managers use the words" can not we skip some steps "?" Van Cleave asked.
"Absolutely," replied the mechanic. "The pressure is there and, you know, the threats of firing and getting you out of the airfield, as they would say, are a very real and banal place."
The mechanics come from bases all over the country. A mechanic told CBS News that the pressure was aimed at "significant safety issues".
"What needs to be repaired: worn tires, worn brakes, fuselage damage," he said.
CBS News obtained the transcript of the teleconference from a South West employee in December 2017, where Landon Nitschke, Senior Vice President of Technical Operations, acknowledged: "We absolutely have to fix some things with the FAA … there are things there with … [mechanics] to be questioned. Supervisors are certainly questioned … and again, compliance, compliance, compliance. "
Captain Dave Hunt is Senior Director of Safety Management at Southwest. "I think it's a good indicator of what our management says to our employees," Hunt said. "It's our highest priority."
"But you do not feel that your mechanics are under undue pressure or threatened, chastised, criticized for finding problems out of reach?" Van Cleave asked.
"I think that any problem that is submitted to us is taken seriously, is the subject of an investigation, an investigation and we follow up on it. one case, we look at them carefully, "said Hunt.
"But you just say it does not happen," said Van Cleave.
"Whenever we become aware of a safety-related event, we take it all seriously and act in the same way," Hunt said.
John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said it was unusual for so many mechanics to publicly express it.
"It stands on top of the hill screaming," said Goglia, acknowledging that there was no doubt that there was a problem. "
He believes that the pressure to speed up repairs and get the aircraft up and running faster is a problem for the mechanical industry.
"You have two dozen.In the past three or four years, more than a hundred people have called me with this kind of complaint, and I'm talking about calls from all the airlines "said Goglia.
David Seymour is senior vice president at American.
"Safety is part of the culture and they know that if they do not do it safely, they should not do it at all," said Seymour.
"Does it concern you that we were hearing a different account from a number of mechanics?" Van Cleave asked.
"This is not a concern for me because I think we have programs in place to make sure they can report them," said Seymour.
"You say that's not a problem, we talked to a former member of the NTSB board who said that, given the number of people we talked to … and that many people filmed on camera are not just a red flag, he called it a field of red flags, "said Van Cleave.
"What I am going to tell you are allegations that were made, but almost all of them were rejected, we had to sort out some problems, but again, there was never any allegation that American Airlines flew a dangerous aircraft, "Seymour said.
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"Should people worry about the planes they're riding on today?"
"I get there everyday, so I'm not worried … it's like climbing up a ladder where the last rung can be an accident or a serious incident," Goglia said. "Whenever you do not do things as they are supposed to be doing, you go up another ladder in the ladder … and it takes several steps to start going up, the risk starts to be severe."
"Are you worried that the pressure is causing an accident and something is not going to be repaired?" Van Cleave asked Santos.
"These things keep me awake at night," Santos replied.
These mechanics tell us that they are worried about the consequences of the pressure they describe on the overall safety culture over time. In the situation in Miami, American said he did not think it was a case of retaliation. This mechanic is at work today.
An FAA official told us that even if they saw cases of undue pressure, they thought that the vast majority of employees were trying to do what was right.
Watch more of our investigation Monday night on the "CBS Evening News".
Southwest Airline's full statement to CBS News:
"Southwest is fully committed to ensuring the safety of its customers and employees. We work continuously to create a safety culture that proactively identifies and manages workplace and workplace risks. With a fleet of 750 aircraft and 4,000 flights a day, we have a rigorous and well-managed program. Safety has always been our top priority, from start to finish, and we are absolutely convinced that our policies, procedures and maintenance programs ensure the safety and airworthiness of our aircraft.
Maintain a culture of safety Compliance is the most important thing we do. Southwest employees are our most valuable asset to operate with the highest level of security. Intimidation or intimidation of any kind is not tolerated. If intimidation or intimidation is reported, we have processes in place to investigate and take action to resolve the problem. Southwest's unwavering commitment to a positive and stable work environment spans nearly five decades and touches all levels of our workforce and leadership.
We expect our mechanics to perform the tasks assigned to them, but we never prohibit employees from expressing their safety concerns and, in fact, we encourage reporting through our system. automated security reporting available 24 hours. Southwest is committed to quickly resolving any issues that may be raised. We work directly with our local FAA Certificate Management Office, which oversees our FAA approved maintenance program, to ensure that processes and procedures are followed in the interest of safety.
Southwest is without a doubt one of the best companies in the world to work with on an unprecedented safety record. Our friends, our families board these flights and none of us would put anything above their safety – this mission unites us all.
About Landon Nitschke's reference to an event "C & rsquo; is your call & # 39; December 6, 2017, where it refers to the FAA: We continued our work of alignment, as a company and as individuals, on the FAA compliance philosophy introduced in 2015, which modified The surveillance. from a regulatory model focused on enforcement to a more transparent problem-solving approach to understanding security issues through an open exchange of information between the agency and the airline . This is a change from the way airlines have always worked with the FAA, and it takes a mutual effort to create a climate of trust and a change of mindset. We applaud the new compliance philosophy and agree that it is a more effective surveillance model of the current aviation system. Strengthening our relationship with the FAA is a priority that, as with any valuable relationship, requires dedication and unwavering commitment on the part of our people.
And as far as his commentary "This is going to be our theme song for 2018": Nothing is more important in our business than Safety and, as such, compliance is always a theme. As we continue our work with the FAA to prepare for extended operations this year, a sound implementation and execution of our operational policies and procedures will be more important than ever. We asked each manager to emphasize the importance of keeping compliance in mind in all of our employees' activities. "
Statement from the Fraternal Association of Aircraft Mechanics at CBS News:
"The Fraternal Association of Aircraft Mechanics (AMFA) – representing more than 2,400 aircraft maintenance technicians from the Southwest, issues the following statement:
The FAA discovered that Southwest Airlines maintenance officials were resorting to coercive tactics that resulted in "a surrender of airworthiness and a culture of fear and retaliation".
US law, in particular the AIR 21 Whistleblower Act, has provided the necessary means to withstand the pressure of management and close the eyes on corrosion, nicks and other major aircraft damage.
Now, Southwest Airlines – already the largest airline with the fewest mechanics by plane – claims the right to have its maintenance done in foreign countries that does not preserve the integrity and compliance requirements of our profession. The interests of American workers – including many veterans of the military and the safety of the traveling public – demand that this security-sensitive work be done in our own country. "
FAA statement to CBS News:
"The country's aviation system is safer than ever, and commercial aviation remains the safest means of transportation because it has multiple redundant levels of security.
The application of security is never static. The FAA is constantly striving to improve consistency, safety data collection and risk analysis. The United States has the largest, most diverse and most complex airspace system in the world. Surveillance is a dynamic process that forces the FAA and the airline industry to work tirelessly to improve safety. We welcome any opportunity to improve what is already the safest aerospace system in the world.
The FAA's application is designed to identify and mitigate potential risks before they affect safety. We investigate all allegations of breach of security standards, regardless of their source. We continue to participate in investigations related to both American and Southwest Airlines. If these safety claims are substantiated, we will take prompt and appropriate action. We can not discuss specific details until these investigations are completed. "