Who is fixing your plane, and how? Frontline dumpster-dives into repair outsourcing

[Video Link]

On the newly revamped PBS program Frontline last night, an investigative report by Miles O'Brien (co-produced with the Investigative Reporting Workshop) on the "outsourcing of major airline repair work to lower-cost independent maintenance operations in the U.S and abroad."

[FRONTLINE] was invited to visit AMECO, one of Asia's largest MROs, in Beijing, which overhauls United Airlines' wide-bodied fleet [Boeing 747 and 777]. FRONTLINE wanted to talk with workers about the quality of their workforce, the competitiveness of the industry and their regulatory compliance records. AMECO cancelled the trip at the last minute.

FRONTLINE also investigates ST Aerospace Mobile in Alabama, which now does heavy repair work for several major airlines, including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways. Through interviews with company mechanics and an examination of both government and company records, the investigation raises serious questions about the quality and experience of the workforce; the use of foreign workers with limited English proficiency; and the alleged use of unauthorized airline parts. One ST employee worries that the current system of maintenance and repair will end in "a smoking hole at the end of the runway."

After watching footage of FRONTLINE's interviews with mechanics at ST Aerospace in Alabama and reading company documents, veteran FAA inspector Linda Goodrich tells FRONTLINE, "Something's seriously wrong here, and we need to investigate this."

Miles is doing a live chat as I publish this post (12pm ET), you may want to pop in.

Video, deeper background, lots of meaty data here: FLYING CHEAPER (pbs.org).

Here's an introduction to the piece. Miles is on Twitter, has a website here, and there's a New York Times piece this week about his report and the broader retooling of Frontline.

This piece is a follow-up to Flying Cheap, his earlier investigation into larger airlines' outsourcing of flights to obscure regional airlines.