Reports filed by federal aviation inspectors during the first month of a strike by Northwest Airlines mechanics challenge assertions by...

Share story

MINNEAPOLIS — Reports filed by federal aviation inspectors during the first month of a strike by Northwest Airlines mechanics challenge assertions by the carrier that operations are running smoothly, according to a newspaper’s review of records.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection records — which were reviewed by two independent aviation experts — describe training deficiencies among replacement workers, thin staffing, maintenance blunders and mistakes in recording aircraft repairs.

It cites an incident in which mechanics failed to find a dead bird in the engine of a jet about to leave Memphis, Tenn. A co-pilot spotted it before takeoff.

In another case, it said inspectors watched replacement workers in Philadelphia work through the night to replace a brake. That job normally takes experienced mechanics less than three hours, the experts said.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

The Star Tribune said Northwest declined to discuss the substance of more than 100 reports it obtained.

Northwest said yesterday it had told the newspaper it was inappropriate to comment on FAA internal documents.

“Northwest remains confident in the quality of its ongoing maintenance program, ” the nation’s fourth-largest airline said.

The statement also said the discovery of the dead bird came from the typical visual preflight safety inspection by the co-pilot, which would reveal such issues.

Since the mechanics walked out Aug. 20, Northwest has used 1,200 replacements, a few hundred managers and outside vendors to maintain and repair its planes.

Northwest filed for bankruptcy protection last month, which typically triggers more FAA inspections at an airline to ensure maintenance is not compromised.

Before the strike, Northwest insisted its replacement workers were fully licensed and trained and that it wouldn’t compromise on safety. But it has acknowledged conducting “refresher training” for replacements since the strike began to ensure proper documentation of aircraft maintenance, a crucial safety discipline, the Star Tribune reported.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said the training was initiated after the agency’s top inspection manager at Northwest discussed record-keeping problems with the airline. That training has been completed.

Cory said many of the FAA inspection reports found no faults, while Northwest promptly corrected shortcomings. A few reports remain under investigation.

Northwest is complying with staffing-level rules and the FAA is “seeing great improvement in the logbook area” since replacements were retrained, Cory said.

In its statement yesterday, Northwest said several of the issues were addressed by the time the Star Tribune contacted it Tuesday.

It said all repairs were completed according to Boeing and Airbus maintenance procedures and had met the airline’s maintenance standards.

“None of the items provided by the Star Tribune involved safety of flight issues,” Northwest said.

With hundreds of inspection reports still unavailable, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions about safety from the sample of FAA reports it reviewed, the newspaper reported. None of the reports revealed any in-flight maintenance problems.

The Star Tribune said it had the FAA documents, along with dozens of Northwest’s internal aircraft-maintenance logs, reviewed by former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia and by John Krawczyk, a former mechanic and maintenance inspector for United Airlines. It said Krawczyk has no ties to Northwest or its mechanics union.

Krawczyk said the mistakes exposed the public to danger.

Goglia, a professor of aviation science at St. Louis University, said he saw evidence of training deficiencies and documentation errors throughout the inspection reports and maintenance logs.