NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2009

Repairing airplanes is a complicated business.  Typically, when mechanics make repairs, they open a manual, consult the book and make the repair step-by-step.  They make a list of every action they take, so the next person to fix the plane will know exactly what has been done.  If mechanics don't speak English, the international language of aviation, they can't read the manual and they can't record their activities.

But of the 236 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified aircraft repair stations in Texas, WFAA -- News 8 of Dallas has learned that hundreds of the mechanics working in those shops do not speak English and are unable to read repair manuals:

  • To certify a part for flight or repair an engine, a mechanic must be licensed by the FAA as an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic, known in the business as an "A&P."
  • But the FAA does not require every person working at a repair station to be a certified A&P; one certified A&P can sign off on the work of dozens of uncertified mechanics.
  • To be sure of proper quality, the supervisor has to either re-do the work himself or take the chance that no mistakes have been made.

The root of the problems is money, mechanics say.  A certified mechanic can earn upwards of $25 an hour in  Texas. Technicians who can't speak English are often hired for less than $10.

However, the FAA is supposed to police repair stations, but insiders say the agency is more focused on looking at paperwork than inspecting the facilities. Yet, Texas' two biggest airlines, American and Southwest, both require mechanics and the technicians who work under them to speak, read and write English, says News 8.

Source: Byron Harris, "Airline mechanics who can't read English," WFAA (News 8 -- Dallas), May 16, 2009.


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