"Maintenance Matters"
Peggy Gilligan, Singapore
February 10, 2014

Singapore Aerospace Technology Conference


Thank you, Mr. Lim.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  As a matter of fact, back in Washington, D.C., we’ve just experienced one of the coldest winters on record.  There were a handful of days where the thermometer was at 0 degrees Fahrenheit … and it stayed there.  For my friends who use Celsius, that’s like minus 18 degrees.  No matter how you measure it, it’s just way too cold for me.  In my book, the warmer weather of Singapore beats ice and snow.  So, all things considered, it is very, very good to be here.

The program sponsors have asked that I talk about what’s on my mind as a safety regulator.  Certainly, maintenance and training are on that list.  You can pick up just about any copy of Aviation Week and find an article about how safe aviation is … how few accidents we have … how we have even fewer fatalities.  Generally speaking, if something does happen in the system, the headlines and the nightly news always salute the pilots and the controllers.  And you know, that’s right.  But behind those headlines are maintenance, training and other safety programs that are second to none.  Maintenance might not be the headline, but to those in this business, it is the bottom line.  And our pilots and mechanics can only do what they do it they’re well trained. 

If you take away maintenance expertise and the training that got them there, you cannot keep the same level of safety.  I was especially pleased to see the focus of this panel because this topic doesn’t get enough notice.  As you’ll hear from these panelists, I’m not alone in thinking that Operations draws the most interest, but it’s what happens behind the scenes that keeps things going.  Each of the presentations you’ll hear today is designed to stretch the safety envelope in some way.  That kind of forward thinking is one more reason why we’re as safe as we are. 

Given all that, if you were to ask me, “What’s your biggest challenge?”  I’d tell you it’s not, “How do you maintain the highest level of safety?”  Rather, it’s “How do you raise the bar when your safety record is already an unparalleled success?” 

The goal is to push safety higher, and it comes at a particularly good time.  The long-term forecast for aviation is looking up … way, way up.   Last year, 737 million people flew on U.S. carriers.   This year, we anticipate that number to hold relatively steady.   But in the long run … over the next 20 years …we’re projecting another 400 million more people flying.  Whatever the level of growth, safety must remain at the forefront.

We have a very clear strategic challenge … an aerospace industry that is growing more complex … a regulatory structure that was developed years ago … the need to be proactive in our approach to safety.

Administrator Michael Huerta has made it a priority to lay a foundation for the aerospace system of the future … but to do it now.  Part of that focus is an emphasis on risk-based decision making.  When you’re faced with a system in which commercial fatalities are the rarest of the rare events, moving forward with safety management systems is the right thing to do.  We had to rely on safety data from the people who work in the system … the pilots, the flight crew, the controllers, the mechanics, the manufacturers … whomever.  Instead of waiting for accidents, we’ll instead be studying data … looking for emerging trends … identifying the hazards before they become an accident.  The Administrator isn’t tip-toeing into this.  He’s pushing us to decrease the safety risk, decrease the commercial fatal accident rate and to put a priority on our resources based on the safety risk.  This is a bold step, but as someone who’s been in this business for a number of years, I can say that it is absolutely the right step. 

One of the most prominent examples of the U.S. stepping up is the new rules on security for maintenance stations.  It’s no secret to you that the FAA was extremely pleased to see that rule completed to address the security of repair stations—especially those that hold U.S. certificates but are located overseas. 

Getting this rule in place took quite a bit of time, and we were at a standstill during that time when it came to issuing certificates to repair stations around the world.  In accordance with Congressional direction, FAA could not issue certificates to repair stations located outside the U.S. until this rule was completed.  So where are we?  There are more than a hundred applications for FAA certification pending around the world.  Obviously, because of resources, this will take time. 

The nuts and bolts of the security regulations are straightforward.  They codify the scope of TSA’s inspection authority and formally require repair stations certificated by the FAA to allow TSA and Department of Homeland Security officials to enter, conduct inspections, and view and duplicate records.

It’s a risk-based approach to security that requires higher risk repair stations—the ones located on or adjacent to an airport—to adopt limited security measures. And it allows the FAA to resume certification of repair stations outside the United States.  Bottom line:  Repair stations that are on – or adjacent to – a TSA-regulated airport must adopt security measures to prevent the unauthorized operation of aircraft capable of flight that are left unattended.  

You know, FAA takes the same risk-based approach to  safety oversight of U.S. airplanes.  We determine whether the work accomplished at the repair station is being performed in accordance with the Federal Aviation Regulations and the air carrier’s approved maintenance program.  Our oversight is based on analyzing risk.  We examine detailed safety data to find trends and spot potential safety problems in order to prevent them.  Where we see the greatest safety risk is where we focus our oversight.

And when we find risk, we often find training helps mitigate it.  So training must be a focus for all of us.  That’s why the U.S. has entered into an agreement to provide training at the Singapore Aviation Academy to allow joint FAA/Singapore training presentations.  I can say with pride that our Aircraft Certification and Flight Standards services are focused on sharing their expertise far and wide.  We’re developing training courses on certification and cabin safety.  And we’re also discussing several other courses, all of which will be open to the entire region.

The rationale behind all of this is simple.  Through the Academy, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will be able to offer FAA courses on a recurring basis.  Classes in certification, validation, and oversight of operations, continuing airworthiness and personnel licensing … all of these no longer will be an international-airplane ride away.  That’s time and money … giving aviation safety professionals more time with the aircraft they’re required to keep track of … rather than taking them to Oklahoma City. 

For example, Aircraft Certification will detail the process to implement the regulation on change product rules.  When a modification requires a Supplemental Type Certificate, the rule says that the STC and all systems affected by that STC modification must meet the latest amendment to the certification standards.  That’s regardless of the earlier certification regulation that was used to certify the aircraft being modified.  As you know, that’s a lot to get your hands around, but the bottom line for this course is that it explains when and how the regulation is applied.

In coordination with our Singapore colleagues, we’ll be offering the FAA-developed and ICAO-endorsed Government Safety Inspector series. The first class is scheduled to begin on April 21st. These safety inspector courses are the equivalent to FAA inspector courses and based on the ICAO Annexes and Standard and Recommended Practices.

As you can see, we view Singapore as an important safety partner in a location that’s grown in significance over the years.  And it goes beyond training courses.  Just about three weeks ago, our Flight Standards Service held a formal meeting with Singapore’s Airworthiness/Flight Operations Division to begin negotiations on Maintenance Implementation Procedures.  Shorthand, that’s MIP.  We have a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement with Singapore that allows acceptance of maintenance, alterations and modifications of aeronautical products.  Now we’re negotiating reciprocal acceptance of certification and surveillance of repair stations between our nations.  That’s where we’re headed, and we’re excited – but on both sides, we’ll proceed deliberately and cautiously.  We expect it will take several years to hammer out all the details. 

Underpinning our negotiations on the MIP, fundamentally, is the subject of maintenance professionalism.  In the United States alone, there are hundreds of thousands of mechanics. Heavy airframe maintenance runs up a tab of $13 billion annually.  That’s a lot of people, a lot of planes and a lot of money.

Just as is the case with pilots … and electricians … and surgeons … and the guy who does the brake job on your car … there’s a need for professionalism and vigilance.  We work in an industry that expects perfection, an industry that considers itself much more than a way to get from Point A to Point B.  Aviation is rock-solid, reliable and most of all, safe.  Passengers don’t have to think about safety because they know that all of the people who touch the airplane are dedicated safety professionals.  They expect fastidiousness, an attention to detail that says, “Nothing is too small to overlook.”

For everyone in the industry … pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, flight attendants … that means showing up for work knowing that you’re rested and ready.  Showing up for work with a clear head.  Always being on top of the latest methods, the best practices.  Knowing that each turn of that wrench has the potential to affect whether or not the plane gets there safely.

It’s because of that that I mention a topic that came up at the outset.  While mechanics don’t make the headlines, there nevertheless is the same need to focus on fitness for duty.  I’m not pointing to an underlying problem as much as I am underscoring the need for all of us to make sure that we deliver one product and one product only … safety.

With that, let me thank you again for the invitation, and let’s turn to our panelists. 

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