Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
American Airlines maintenance outsourcing hurts pride, raises safety concerns.
American Airlines mechanics, stinging from plans for widespread layoffs, say outsourcing their work also would be bad for passengers.
AMR Corp., the airline's parent company, announced Wednesday that it would slash 13,000 of its 88,000 employees as part of a five-year plan to annually save $3 billion.
Members of the Transport Workers Union are the hardest hit -- 4,600 mechanics and 4,200 fleet service workers. Their work could be outsourced to outside contractors.
Aviation safety consultant Denny Kelly, a former airline pilot, said a contractor could hire some of the employees because they are familiar with the work but would not pay them near what they get as American employees.
"American mechanics make really good money per hour, plus their benefits and retirement, so it's really going to be a hit," he said.
American had bucked a trend in the industry by keeping all of its aircraft maintenance in-house.
Other carriers already outsource heavy scheduled aircraft maintenance, and American said it needs to do the same to reduce costs and remain competitive.
Kelly said the airline could save a lot of money by outsourcing checks to other places.
"A lot of airlines do this now -- [to] Taiwan, Costa Rica, places like that," he said.
About 1,200 workers would be cut at Fort Worth Alliance Airport's American Airlines maintenance center, which the company plans to close.
"It's a bad thing for America," said Gary Moffitt, a 23-year veteran American Airlines mechanic and board member of Transport Workers Union Local 567. "It's a bad thing for American Airlines to start sending this work to other places."
Moffitt said safety could be compromised by outsourcing to countries, saying regulatory oversight may not be as strong.
"A guy in a foreign country may very well have to have somebody translate it for him," he said. "These manuals get increasingly complex. The airplanes are complex."
But Jason Langford, a spokesman for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, said maintenance contractors in the United States and abroad must operate under the same Federal Aviation Administration regulations that American Airlines does.
"It doesn't matter where the work is done," he said. "It must be done to the exact same FAA standards."
American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said in a statement if the airline decides to perform work outside the country, it must use an FAA-certified facility and FAA-certified parts because it is a U.S.-registered carrier.
"The FAA will audit any facility that we use, just like they do today," she said. "This is the process other U.S.-based carriers have used for their outsourcing for many years."
Nearly every other airline performs work outside the United States, Huguely said.
Langford said the airline industry safety record has actually improved as the use of maintenance outsourcing increased.
"You don't see any negative correlation there," he said.
Moffitt said he disagreed.
"As a passenger going through TSA security, you get a better check than a mechanic working at a foreign repair station," he said. "That's nonsensical."
Huguely said in the statement that the airline would continue to handle a large portion of its maintenance work with American Airlines employees at the airline's facilities.
"Even though we are proposing increasing our outsourcing, work done at any other facility will always be subject to our and the FAA's very rigorous safety standards," she said.
American has been at odds with most of its union groups for years.
The unions must agree to the bankruptcy reorganization cuts American is requesting or leave it to judge to make the final decisions.
Moffitt attended meetings with the airline Thursday. The union hopes to reduce the effect of bankruptcy reorganization.
"People have aging parents to take care of, kids with special needs, kids in college, medical conditions, and all of that is in jeopardy," Moffitt said.
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