Southwest to Outsource Some Maintenance to El Salvador

Some Southwest Airlines planes are headed south of the border for maintenance. 

In a reversal of an earlier decision, the Dallas-based airline is moving ahead with plans to outsource some maintenance work to a company in El Salvador.

A spokesman for the airline, Paul Flanagan, confirmed the move Wednesday, and said Southwest pilots would ferry the first plane to San Salvador sometime in early July.

Last year, Southwest put off plans to use the Salvadoran company, as the airline dealt with the fallout from FAA fines for failing to perform maintenance checks on planes that continued to fly.  The airline eventually agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle the dispute. 

The FAA originally recommended more than $10 million in penalties.

Many U.S. airlines already outsource maintenance to foreign countries.  The company Southwest will use in El Salvador, Aeroman, has already performed heavy maintenance work for other major U.S. Airlines.

But, unions and consumer groups have objected to outsourcing, questioning the safety and oversight of work performed outside of the U.S., where mechanics are paid less than their American counterparts.

Last year, BusinessWeek reported that mechanics at Aeroman make between $4,500 and $15,000 a year, while U.S. airplane mechanics earn an average of $52,000 a year.

Southwest said it's confident that its new foreign maintenance provider is well qualified for the job.  "They pass all or our really stringent tests for safety.  They have a great track record," Flanagan said.

The union that represents Southwest's mechanics previously agreed to allow a limited amount of work to be outsourced to a foreign company last year, in a new contract with the airline. 

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