The FAA must improve its risk-based oversight program for repair stations and manufacturers, said Jeffrey Guzzetti, assistant inspector general for aviation and special programs audit, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, at an aviation safety hearing April 25.

Guzzetti testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee that the FAA adopted a new oversight system for repair stations in 2007, focusing surveillance on facilities with the greatest safety risks. However, he says that the FAA has to strengthen and more effectively use its risk-based approach for oversight at repair stations to ensure that it is appropriately distributing inspectors at the repair stations with the highest safety risks.

“Our ongoing review indicates that the system is not applied consistently; some inspectors do not use the risk assessment process at all, while others use it to varying degrees,” he testified. “Additionally, the system lacks historical data, hindering inspectors’ ability to conduct comprehensive trend analyses and prioritize their inspections to repair stations with the greatest risk.”

Guzzetti adds that FAA’s surveillance at both repair stations within the U.S. and in other countries needs to be more rigorous.

“Problems we identified during our 2003 review are still occurring,” he said in the testimony. “For example, we found systemic problems persist at repair stations in areas such as inadequacies in mechanic training, outdated tool calibration checks, and inaccurate work order documentation. FAA guidance requires inspectors to review these specific areas during repair station inspections, but at the repair stations we visited, they had overlooked these types of deficiencies.”

Guzzetti says that the office of inspector general for the Department of Transportation will issue a new report on the FAA’s risk-based system this summer.

Also at the hearing, Gary Fortner, vice president of quality control for Fortner Engineering and senior vice president of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association’s board of directors, testified that the inability for the FAA to issue new foreign repair station certificates will hurt aviation maintenance businesses in the U.S. and will hinder foreign repair stations that try to create new jobs in the U.S. “Any effort to limit the ability of U.S. air carriers to use foreign repair stations will inevitably lead to retaliation from foreign governments that will hurt hundreds of U.S. companies, like mine, that serve an international clientele.”

The issue of new foreign repair stations not being able to work on U.S. aircraft stems from the Transportation Security Administration’s delays in issuing repair station security rules, which then led to a congressional mandate for them to complete the rules by 2008. When that did not happen, Congress barred FAA from issuing new foreign repair station certificates.

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), vice chair of the aviation subcommittee and former Northwest Airlines pilot, says he is cautious about the maintenance done at foreign repair stations.

“Foreign repair facilities are a big concern of mine,” he said.