First published in thehill.com on February 11, 2016
By Louie Key
Last October, a Russian plane carrying 224 men, women, and children crashed in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. All 224 people on board were killed. It is now suspected that an aircraft maintenance technician from EgyptAir planted the bomb on the plane.
While many of the details surrounding this incident remain unclear, the fact that an aircraft maintenance technician could be involved should horrify all of us. The men and women I represent are fully committed to the safety and security of the passengers and planes we service. Our motto, “Safety in the air begins with quality maintenance on the ground,” underscores our commitment to the American flying public.
This tragic bombing is another unfortunate example of the threats we face as a nation, and the immediate need for increased oversight and accountability for foreign repair station employees. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has well-established oversight standards of domestic aircraft maintenance technicians, including pre-employment background investigations and regular drug and alcohol testing. Unfortunately, those same standards do not apply to our foreign counterparts. This is an unconscionable safety and security gap.
The expansion of international air service, and associated cost-cutting measures, mean that U.S. airlines are increasingly relying on foreign repair stations for aircraft maintenance. Unfortunately, the standards at foreign repair stations are far less robust than in the U.S. and consequently air safety and security suffers.
Since 2008, our organization has been pushing for increased safety and security enhancements at foreign repair stations. And more recently, we have worked with House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Reps. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), to secure safety and security provisions in the upcoming FAA reauthorization.
We were encouraged to see language in the recently released Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act to address these safety and security gaps. The legislation calls for foreign repair stations to conduct background investigations of aircraft maintenance technicians and for ongoing drug and alcohol testing as well.
In order to minimize the threat of another incident like the bombing of that Russian plane that killed 224 men, women, and children, Congress must act. The American flying public deserves nothing less.
Key is National Director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which represents 3,000 aircraft maintenance technicians and related employees actively involved in the aviation industry.