Corrupt FAA Services Industry Yet Again, With Carelessness and Corruption Allowing Unsafe Airworthiness Directive Noncompliant Boeing Airliners to Remain in Service
An excellent article by David Evans of the Aviation Safety Journal, Placing blame rightly on the corrupt and incompetent FAA for failing to do their duty and stop an airline from flying passengers on Boeing planes for several months with reworked, untested critical avionics systems not in compliance with an Airworthiness Directive.
As you will see in the article below, FAA corruption on behalf of Boeing and industry is universal, not only ensuring noncompliant and largely uninspected airliners are delivered to airlines from Boeing as my website and this blog document, but also ensuring noncompliance at airlines that fly Boeing airplanes as well.
When you read this article, you have to be thankful for the United Quality Assurance auditor that found this issue and ensured it was fixed as required by reporting the finding, as well as wonder if they still have a job.
I know the travails of being a QA auditor personally. I did an audit of the Fuel Farm at North Boeing Field in Seattle during the time I was banished to Seattle Boeing Field Flight Test QA (FTQA) from Boeing's Propulsion Systems Division by my QA management for reporting my corrupt Boeing QA management to the FAA. Typically, being the rare ethical Boeing inspector I was, I wrote up all noncompliances I found during the audit of the Fuel Farm (the huge jet fuel fuel tank area where all jet fuel for Boeing Field was received in via tanker truck and dispensed to airliners by the Boeing Field fuel trucks).
I got a "Pride in Excellence" award for that audit from a couple FTQA office personnel whose roles I don't recall now. They weren't my management there however. The audit was pages long, and I gave it to my Boeing FTQA Management where it languished and eventually found its way to a round file somewhere I believe.
I would have preferred my indisputable audit findings be actually acted upon and fixed, rather than just receiving some award of "Pride in Excellence" points I could redeem for a travel mug with the Boeing logo or some such thing.
That's the way QA audits are done within Boeing. Glad that United audits have much more integrity than Boeing's, even if they catch critical oversights several months late. At least they fixed this one of the auditor's items, even if it was only for cost reasons in reducing the fine they might have to pay when the FAA attempted to save face from its incompetence and corruption by fining United for finding a noncompliance they should have found themselves before the AD compliance time expired.
As for my "award winning" corrective action-less Boeing Fuel Farm audit, no catastrophic incidents seem to have happened as a result of the lack of C/A, as I haven't heard of any explosions at Boeing Field's Fuel Farm, or any contaminated fuel delivered to airplanes there (of course, any explosion or fire would be on the news, contaminated fuel put on a customer's airplane is something that Boeing would never make public. and if it was known internally, they would fire any employee who made it public).
In QA at Boeing, writing up a valid discrepancy/noncomformance is easy, if you dare to accept the risks to your career that that entails like I did. Getting them actually fixed is the hard part. Such nonconformances can get bought off without rework or repair or cancelled outright for completely bogus reasons without the originating inspector's knowledge, similar to how John Liotine's order to replace the jackscrew on the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 airplane was negated without his knowledge, with tragic results.
Considering my experience with this QA subterfuge at Boeing, kudos are in order for the United QA auditor that did the right thing even though it could endanger their job.
Required Safety Checks Were Not Done Despite Six Year Compliance Time
Thu, Feb 17, 2011 — David Evans
Almost 100 jets were grounded to accomplish required safety checks, raising serious questions about federal oversight of the airline that was at least eight months late doing the work.
On 15 February United Airlines announced that it was grounding 96 of its B757s to check and validate software and hardware changes for the airplane’s air data computer systems.
“We apologize for any inconvenience and ask customers to check their flights status … before going to the airport,” said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. The work reportedly will take 12-24 hours to complete, so the airplanes should be returned to service as of this writing.
According to media reports, during a routine maintenance check, United discovered that it had not followed all the steps required in an airworthiness directive (AD) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2004.
End of story? Not a big problem? Hardly. Rather than soothing reports of how well United did getting these grounded aircraft back on the flight schedule, the story should have been of the utter failures demonstrated here and the lack of assurances that this latest problem isn’t part of a systemic FAA absence of oversight.
The AD in question (AD 2004-10-15) was published in the Federal Register in May 2004. Extracts below set forth the work to be done and the reasons therefore:
“This [AD] requires a modification of the air data computer (ADC) system, which involves installing certain new circuit breakers, relays, and related components, and making various wiring changes in and between the flight deck and main equipment center …"
“This action is necessary to ensure that the flightcrew is able to silence an erroneous overspeed or stall aural warning. A persistent erroneous warning could confuse and distract the flightcrew and lead to an increase in the flightcrew’s workload. Such a situation could lead the flightcrew to act on hazardously misleading information, which could result in loss of control of the airplane …"
“For Model 757-200 … airplanes: Install a circuit breaker and replace an existing lightplate assembly with a new, improved lightplate assembly in the flight compartment; install two relays and remove a certain relay in the main equipment center; make various wiring changes in the flight compartment and main equipment center; and perform tests of the flight data acquisition unit, flight data recorder system, and stall and overspeed warnings.”
The work was required within 6 years of the AD’s effective date of June 22, 2004. United had performed the hardware changes within that period, but failed to perform the functionality tests, hence the grounding for the required tests.
The period of non-compliance with the AD appears to be from June 2010 to February 2011.
United’s public announcement of the belatedly required checks may be an attempt to forestall a civil penalty of millions of dollars, since the out-of-compliance fine is based on the number of airplanes times the number of flights made in a noncompliant condition. Recall that in October 2009 the FAA proposed a $3.8 million fine against United for flying a B737 over 200 flights with shop towels, rather than protective caps, covering openings in the oil sump on the right-side engine. Recall, also, the $24.2 million fine proposed against American Airlines in August 2010 for failing to follow an AD affecting 286 MD-80 twinjets. (See Aviation Safety Journal, October 2009, “Distracting Attention From Systemic Safety Shortcomings” and September 2010, “Penalty Raises Question: Where Was the FAA When Airline Was Out of Compliance?”)
One has to ask why the full AD compliance was not tracked in a timely manner by United. After all, software for alerting when data (invoices) becomes “past due” is available at all office supply stores.
And where was the FAA principal maintenance inspector (PMI) in this fiasco? If he didn’t notice the noncompliant aircraft, then where were the assigned certificate management folks assigned by the FAA to oversee United’s operating certificate (which includes AD compliance in support of that operating certificate). Lastly, if oversight at these field levels was lacking, where was the FAA’s Washington DC headquarters in all of this?
Pertinent questions go well beyond feel-good statements.
Every month that this AD went beyond compliance is not just an indictment of United’s programs for continuing safety analysis accepted by the FAA, but also of the FAA’s entire oversight program – from the PMI to Washington headquarters.
End of article.
And to top all of this evidence of rampant continuing FAA incompetence and corruption off, the FAA told the press that United was grounding its 757 fleet and complying with the eight month past compliance deadline AD "voluntarily." In other words, the hopelessly corrupt FAA wouldn't have even made United comply with the AD even though the AD compliance time clock had expired eight months ago. Is the FAA asleep at the switch? In bed with industry? Corrupt? Incompetent?
The answer is, obviously, "all of the above."
The Last Inspector