Before the year 2001, many airline companies in the United States performed the larger part of their maintenance activities by themselves. However, in a bid to cut costs, many airlines started outsourcing maintenance activities. In fact, outsourcing has become so popular such that whenever passengers board a commercial flight in the modern day, there is a 50% probability that the aircraft that they are on has its maintenance performed not by FAA approved mechanics that have been employed by the airplane, but rather by outside individuals from the many contract repair companies or stations that exist (Ghobrial, 2005). Statistics show that airline maintenance outsourcing has been steadily rising in the last decade. Currently, over 70% of the heavy maintenance activities of the nine major airline carriers in the United States is outsourced, with about 27% of this being outsourced to foreign companies (Hsu and Liou, 2013). The observed trend has elicited massive debate with some opposing the outsourcing of airline maintenance to outside providers while some support this move. This paper aims to argue that the cons of airline maintenance outsourcing outweighs the pros and should therefore be done away with. Airlines should not outsource the maintenance of their aircraft and should instead hire FAA approved mechanics and technicians to perform the maintenance activities.
As previously mentioned, the major argument given by proponents of airline maintenance outsourcing is that it reduces costs. Outsourcing to foreign stations is particularly very cheap as the labor costs for workers are very low (Hsu and Liou, 2013). The proponents argue that airlines should take any means necessary to reduce costs and if outsourcing can lead to the reduction of costs, then the airlines should take advantage of it. Cost saving is indeed considered the major advantage of outsourcing (Schwanke, 2014). This is because, through outsourcing, repetitive jobs can be done by providers who are specialized in these particular jobs (Hsu and Liou, 2013). Airline companies also enjoy economies of scale through outsourcing as well as save on salaries. These are the major counterarguments that are given by proponents of outsourcing to those who oppose outsourcing. However, as will be seen, these supposed benefits are outweighed by the cons.
The first reason airline outsourcing is a bad move is because of safety compromise (Schwanke, 2014). There has been an increasing erosion of passenger safety among the major airlines in the America mainly due to outsourcing of key maintenance elements. When airlines hire their own maintenance workforce, this workforce is comprehensively evaluated for adherence to FAA certification standards. Therefore, airlines are forced to ensure that the quality of the maintenance workforce is impeccably high. The capacity for mistakes in terms of aircraft maintenance is very low and consequently, passenger safety is guaranteed. This guarantee is almost absent when maintenance is outsourced. Although the station or company in which the maintenance responsibility has been outsourced is vetted by the airline for abidance to some basic standards, the process is not comprehensive. For example, airlines may check to ensure that the repair facilities of the maintenance station are FAA certified and meet standards. However, critical exceptions may be made when it comes to security and personnel standards. The supervisors, inspectors and workers may not be required to hold FAA certificate meaning that the actual maintenance activity may not be to the best standard. This is very dangerous to passenger safety as inadequate maintenance of aircrafts may lead to accidents and consequent loss of life (Monaghan, 2011). Therefore, it emerges that while the outsourcing of airline maintenance has exploded both in complexity and volume, the oversight as well as regulatory standards have not kept pace with this trend (Hsu and Liou, 2013).
In addition to compromise on passenger security, another reason outsourcing of maintenance by airlines is not advisable is that it poses a huge threat to homeland security. This is especially the case when it comes foreign repair stations where the maintenance has been outsourced. Currently, there are very few safeguards put in place to prevent international terrorists from exploiting the glorious opportunity availed to them to cause harm, for instance, by tampering or interfering with aircraft systems or worse still, inserting bombs or explosives in the name of maintenance (Ghobrial, 2005).
In addition to the two reasons discussed above, outsourcing leads to the dwindling of the skilled workforce in the nation. The current airline industry is orienting towards a very dangerous direction whereby outsourcing to foreign companies has gained prominence. This inadvertently leads to the decimation of one of the nation’s most vital infrastructure: highly trained and skilled avionics and aircraft technicians (Ghobrial, 2005). If this trend continues, this workforce will slowly dwindle to the point that it will be quite impossible to rebuild.
As observed, the main argument for airline maintenance outsourcing revolves around cost reduction. There is no doubt that airline maintenance outsourcing helps to reduce costs and also helps airlines enjoy various economies of scale, as well as salary reductions. However, as it has also been shown, outsourcing is plagued by various disadvantages and deficiencies that include lack of passenger safety, exposure to homeland insecurity, as well as the decimation of avionics and aircraft workforce. It is fairly safe to conclude that the cons of airline maintenance outsourcing outweigh the pros and consequently, airlines should stick to hiring their own maintenance who have been certified by the FAA.
Ghobrial, A., (2005). Outsourcing in the airline industry: Policy implications. Journal of Transportation Law, Logistics, and Policy, 72(4), 457-473
Hsu, C., & Liou, J. J. (2013). An outsourcing provider decision model for the airline industry. Journal of Air Transport Management, 28, 40-46.
Schwanke, C. (2014). Airline Maintenance Outsourcing. LoveToKnow. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://jobs.lovetoknow.com/Airline_Maintenance_Outsourcing
Monaghan, K. (2011). Examining the Relationship between Passenger Airline Aircraft Maintenance Outsourcing and Aircraft Safety.