“There is evidence of years of problems in testing these mechanics,” the Dallas-Fort Worth station stated. “There is also evidence that hundreds of mechanics with questionable licenses are working on aircraft in Texas.” The report expanded on that, saying it had found evidence of repair facilities hiring low-wage mechanics who can’t read.
The investigation was started after 21 people were killed when U.S. Airways Express Flight 5481 crashed in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003, when it went out of control on takeoff. The NTSB investigators found that mechanics had connected the cables to some of the plane’s control surfaces incorrectly following repairs. The FAA was cited for improper oversight of the repair process.
There are more than 236 FAA-certified aircraft repair stations in Texas, according to the FAA’s Web site. WFAA-TV said it learned that “hundreds of the mechanics working in those shops do not speak English” and are “unable to read repair manuals for today’s sophisticated aircraft.” A former FAA inspector, Bill McNease, told WFAA News that he regularly encountered applicants for pilots’ licenses who tried to pretend they could speak English but could not, the station stated. It reported that mechanics tested at an FAA licensing center in San Antonio were being tested in Spanish as late as last fall. The FAA ultimately shut down that facility.
The FAA does not require that every person working on an airplane be a certified A&P, however. One certified A&P can sign off on the work of dozens of uncertified mechanics.
That creates “a huge problem,” however, one such mechanic told WFAA News. “I need an interpreter to talk to these people,” he said. “They can’t read the manuals, they can’t write, and I have so many working for me I can’t be sure of the work they’ve done.”
The root of the problem is money, mechanics told the station’s investigators. A certified mechanic can earn upward from $25 an hour in Texas. Mechanics who can’t speak English can be hired for less than $10, according to people interviewed by the TV station.
Texas’ two biggest airlines, American and Southwest, told WFAA that they require mechanics and the technicians who work under them to speak, read and write English, but mechanics who work elsewhere said their shops are “filled with non-English speakers,” the station stated.
The FAA declined to be interviewed for the report, WFAA said.