Safety in the air begins with quality maintenance on the ground

Safety in the air begins with quality maintenance on the ground
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The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) mission is to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom and movement for people and commerce.”

To help with this enormous task, the TSA has established a variety of committees and programs to provide industry experts’ advice to the TSA administrator. With regards to aviation, the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) is charged with providing counsel on all aviation security matters. The membership of the committee is composed of private sector organizations with a direct impact on aviation security.


Unfortunately, there is one glaring stakeholder omission: the aircraft maintenance technician. While the pilot and flight attendant voices are represented by their respective union, the craft-specific technician union is not seated — leaving out an essential safety perspective.


A technician deserves a seat at the table, and U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee Chairman John Katko (R-N.Y.) agrees. In a letter to the TSA acting administrator, Katko stated, the maintenance technician “is a highly skilled professional and directly contributes to the security and safety of the American flying public,” and “for the ASAC to be an effective counsel to the TSA Administrator, it is imperative that the committee’s composition be representative of the aviation career fields providing security and safety…” 

Interestingly, why isn’t there a craft-specific labor voice on the advisory committee? Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association contends that industry has usurped labor’s role, putting forth a business-first opinion, void of the proficient perspective and candid voice of the maintenance technician that we represent.

The association strongly believes this is a mistake and one that effectively limits the ability of the advisory committee to accomplish its mission.  Although corporate interests and perspectives are essential in the discussion of safety — so are those of labor.

Until a craft-specific aircraft maintenance technician labor voice is seated at the table with the other advisory committee members, the imperative safety knowledge of the technician is silenced. It’s time for the TSA administrator to include a craft-specific labor voice on the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which will allow them to use all available expertise to keep the flying public safe.

The role of the technician is one that blends knowledge and skill. Most technicians have invested tens of thousands of dollars in education and the specialty tools necessary to succeed.  Once engaged in their career, you can find technicians on the line troubleshooting discrepancies, or conducting preventative inspections and time-sensitive repairs; in the hangar performing an engine change or heavy maintenance check; and in the manufacturing facility building an aircraft from nose-to-tail. All these tasks are performed to ensure the flying public can reach their destination safely.

No one should underestimate the expertise and capabilities of our technicians. Instead, we should harness and utilize their knowledge and experience at all levels of the decision-making process.

Technicians’ commitment to the flying public is to ensure a safe aircraft in the air by providing quality maintenance on the ground. This responsibility is taken seriously and is not limited to take-off, in-flight or landing. Technicians’ charge continues to all safety aspects of the aircraft.  

A technician performs hundreds of inspections each year, including the search for evidence of mechanical tampering and, worse yet, the possible discovery and removal of dangerous materials.  Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous time, a time where everyone must remain vigilant from those that seek to harm us. The technician is the flying public’s first line of defense and an essential safety net in a collective goal towards the flying public’s safety. It is time for their unique perspective to be shared.

Bret Oestreich is the national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), a craft specific, independent aviation union. AMFA represents aircraft maintenance technicians and is committed to improvements in the wages, benefits and working conditions. Oestreich has been employed at Southwest Airlines, as an aircraft maintenance technician, fiberglass composite-structure mechanic since 2012. Oestreich was previously a 737 tail and engine technician, fiberglass composite technician on DC-10, MD-11, A-300, and sheet metal and tail engine technician on MD-80 aircrafts at American Airlines in Tulsa, OK.