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Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 2:10 am

Well.. I've been tooting my horn for a while now about how bad Air Transat is.. and the fun continues.. from today's Globe and Mail:

Mechanic warned Air Transat over jet

From Monday's Globe and Mail

A senior airline mechanic told his boss an Air Transat plane was not ready to fly just days before it lost power over the Atlantic, forcing a dramatic emergency landing on an island airstrip, a union official says.

The mechanic was so worried about the plane that he tape-recorded a telephone conversation with his non-union supervisor, who overruled his advice to leave the Airbus A330-200 on the ground after an engine replacement in which not all work recommended by the manufacturer was completed, the official said.

"He didn't want to release the plane," said Jean Jallet, president of Lodge 1751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents mechanics at Transat's Mirabel hangar north of Montreal.

Five days later, after several uneventful round trips, the plane's engines died en route from Toronto to Lisbon after losing fuel. Its pilot was forced to make a dangerous no-power landing on an island runway to save the lives of the 304 people on board.

Air Transat spokeswoman Seychelle Harding said she couldn't comment on the union's allegations, but she said the mechanic's supervisor was suspended with pay last week.

"Whether something went wrong or not, he was in charge of the engine change," Ms. Harding said. "It's standard procedure to suspend him."

Neither the airline nor the union would release the names of the mechanic or his superior.

The cause of the near-disaster is under investigation. The Globe and Mail quoted sources last week as saying improper installation caused a fuel line to chafe against other pipes, resulting in a leak that eventually starved the engines of fuel.

The engines' manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, also issued a statement last week saying the fuel leak appears to be the result of Air Transat following only part of a service bulletin issued earlier.

Mr. Jallet said the certified aircraft technician and his team of between six and eight mechanics tried to follow that bulletin, which called for replacement of the engine's fuel line and a nearby hydraulic pipe. But the hydraulic line couldn't be corrected because certain parts weren't stocked at the maintenance facility north of Montreal.

"That's why you'd get what what we call fretting, or chafing of the lines," Mr. Jallet said. "The mechanic was well aware that the service bulletin was half-done. I don't know why they didn't have all the parts."

Mr. Jallet said an Air Transat supervisor disregarded the mechanic's concern and signed off on the plane's release into regular service.

"My guy [the mechanic] did the right thing," Mr. Jallet said. "When they tell you something you don't agree with, you have to call them back and get it on tape. That way you're covered."

The union has offered lawyers to the mechanic to help him through the investigation, Mr. Jallet said. He would not reveal the tape's exact contents.

Mr. Jallet also said management officials overrule unionized mechanics far too frequently at small airlines such as Air Transat.

"In these smaller outfits, you get more pressure to release the aircraft," Mr. Jallet said. "You wouldn't have that at Air Canada."

Another union official said staff at smaller carriers can feel pushed to avoid delaying planes over safety concerns.

"Probably there is more pressure because they have to meet a schedule," said Jack Quinn, chief steward of IAMAW Lodge 764 in Richmond, B.C. "It's not like Air Canada where you just bring another aircraft in. It's very competitive, of course. For somebody like Air Transat, if that aircraft doesn't fly you're looking at a whole flight being lost and people being put up in hotels and such. I don't think they have as many backups."

Mr. Quinn, who started as a mechanic for the former Canadian Pacific Airlines in 1977, represents West Coast mechanics of the former Canadian Airlines, now part of Air Canada. He has no direct knowledge of Air Transat, but said it's not a good sign if mechanics have started taping their conversations with management.

"That's a new one on me," he said. "If you got to the point where you were having to record things, then you would be a bit concerned, wouldn't you? It would tell me that it wasn't the first time. I think you'd be covering your butt."

Mr. Jallet said the mechanics union was merely doing what is necessary to keep front-line workers from taking the fall for the airline's problems. "It's easy to blame the lower guy on the totem pole."

The airline has said it replaced the engine because tiny metal filings had been detected in the motor's oil. While any fuel leak is serious, this one affected only the right-wing fuel tanks. Investigators are trying to determine whether the pilots pumped fuel from the undamaged left-wing tanks to the leaking right engine, causing both engines to quit.

Although the Portuguese-led investigation isn't complete, Transport Canada has ordered Air Transat pilots to take remedial training in fuel management and emergency procedures for long flights over water. The regulator also directed the Montreal-based airline to overhaul its maintenance procedures.

The pilots' first remedial sessions on fuel management will begin Tuesday.

Whatever the cause of the near disaster, pilots around the world marvelled at the skill of Captain Robert Piché in handling the plane after the second of its two engines went silent at 34,500 feet, 137 kilometres from the nearest airstrip. Without power, a pilot has just one chance to land. Eight of the plane's 10 tires blew under extreme emergency braking, without reverse engine thrust, but everyone aboard survived.

Air Transat issued a news release on the weekend detailing arrangement made for passengers. Their airfare was refunded and they will get "complimentary upgrades wherever possible" on the return trip, the airline said.

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RE: Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 2:22 am

Wow, this is interesting. Think about how many incidents like this take place a year.
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RE: Mechanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 6:34 am

My concern is less over safety, and more one of their laziness leading to more delays in the long run.
There are jsut too many question marks on this Air Transat emergency landing for my liking...
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RE: Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 7:13 am

>>>My concern is less over safety, and more one of their laziness leading to more delays in the long run. There are jsut too many question marks on this Air Transat emergency landing for my liking...

IMHO, laziness has nothing to do with it.. Zip, zilch, nada...

The bigger factors in the making of this near-disaster (all of which adversely affect safety in some manner) are a tangled web, and unlike some of the folks interviewed in the article inferred, these factors are capable of occuring at any airline, anywhere.

There seems to be a great tendency to "push" aircraft via bottomline deceptive reasoning and decisionmaking. It's not just something peculiar to some management types "over-ruling" the front-line labor types (pilots, dispatchers, mechanics, as sometimes, it's them as well attempting to "push".

Before anyone retaliates with a Tomahawk at me for that statement saying that "they never have", allow me to say, "fine", but also to note that no human being on this planet is immune from falling into this human factors trap, even if this trap starts on the ground, and not in the air.

It's my belief that this near-accident will get intensive scrutiny it deserves, as it's an incredibly valuable example of how far back the error chain can start, and luckily, there was no loss of life involved. Look back at an accident like AA191 @ ORD (1979), and look at the human factors involved (and lack of oversight thereof) with someone's decision to get "creative" and save time/money by using a forklift for changing DC-10 wing engines (engine and pylon improperly removed/reattached as a single unit).

Sorry for the length, but as I said, I don't think it's quite as simple as "laziness..."


ALL views, opinions expressed are mine ONLY and are NOT representative of those shared by Southwest Airlines Co.
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RE: Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 7:54 am

Did I read this right, did the maintenance supervisor sign the log? That is outright illegal! The mechanic who performed the work is the ONLY person authorized to sign the work as completed.
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RE: Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 8:08 am

As an A&P:

I sure as hell would not have signed the log.

They would have had to fire me first.
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RE: Meachanic Warned Air Transat Over Jet

Tue Sep 04, 2001 8:53 am

If I am not mistaken there must be a double signature on an engine change. So there is more than one person who screwed up. The supervisor could have signed the inspection (pencil whip)but who signed the actual engine change? The media is , as usual, a little light on facts.

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