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Monday, January 24, 2011

ST Aerospace Comes Under Fire

Just as ST Aerospace faces a $1.025-million civil penalty proposed by the FAA against its subsidiary in San Antonio. the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) giant finds itself the subject of a television expose questioning its business practices.
The FAA alleged on Jan. 20 that ST Aerospace San Antonio violated U.S. Transportation Department Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing program procedures between March 27, 2007, and May 8, 2008. During this 14-month period, FAA charges, the subsidiary brought 90 employees on board without properly testing them for drug and alcohol use and let more than a quarter of them perform safety-sensitive tasks before receiving the results of any tests. Of these 90 employees, FAA says 69% did not take required pre-employment drug and alcohol tests at all before they were hired. A further 25% of those employees were tested, but ST Aerospace San Antonio hired them before it found out the results. Six employees were tested on the same day they were hired.
ST Aerospace has responded to the FAA’s announcement by saying it has addressed the issues raised and is now in compliance. “ST Aerospace takes its safety obligations seriously and has in fact addressed the issues raised by the FAA back in 2008. We cooperated with the FAA years ago to resolve their concerns and implement quality controls to ensure that we comply with the FAA’s drug-testing standards,” it says.
There are no allegations of current compliance issues, St Aerospace points out, adding that “every one of the employees referred to in the FAA’s press release has passed their drug test." The FAA says that “required pre-employment drug testing is an important part of the government’s effort to ensure safety at all levels of transportation.” ST Aerospace San Antonio has 30 days to respond to the agency’s proposed penalty.
In a separate development, ST Aerospace San Antonio’s sister company, ST Aerospace Mobile, is at the center of an expose on PBS Television. The report, citing internal company documents and interviews with ST Aerospace Mobile employees, alleges that the MRO firm in Mobile, Ala., had on occasion signed off on work that had not been done.
It showed an internal company document, dated May 10, 2010, which outlined an incident in which three US Airways Airbus A330s underwent maintenance at the Mobile facility and were later found to have trim tank fuel leaks. The document says the company investigated the matter and found that “the mechanics had signed off work as completed, when in fact the work was not." Other company documents, cited in the report, say that the Mobile facility last year forgot to install an aircraft navigation box, misrouted a flight control cable and had a landing gear with a broken hydraulic cable.
Second Facility Questioned
The FAA over the years has also raised concerns about the quality of the workforce at the Mobile facility, says the PBS report, citing FAA documents. The report says the FAA has raised concerns that the Mobile facility has a shortage of qualified maintenance personnel, English proficiency is lacking among some employees, there is a lack of proper training and a question mark over management’s commitment to safety.
Another issue raised in the PBS report, based on FAA documents, is that the Mobile facility has had instances since 2004 where it has failed to properly tag, document and track parts through its maintenance system. The PBS reporter interviewed some employees who agreed with this assessment.
ST Aerospace Mobile President Joseph Ng—in a written letter to PBS, a copy of which Aviation Week has obtained—says that the Mobile facility’s parts are all properly tagged and documented. He says there are instances in which the company throws away or “segregates” parts, but this is because the parts are obsolete or are for older aircraft types that the Mobile facility no longer works on.
The company has also rebutted the allegations about the quality of its workforce. It says prior to hiring someone, it checks the person’s qualifications, suitability for the job and English proficiency, and it provides regular training.

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