Should US Airlines Be Outsourcing More of Their Maintenance?

American Airlines gave employees across the board raises without insisting that the pay changes be part of a contract. The airline says that’s made it harder to get mechanics to agree to a contract. American mechanics have already gotten much of the money they’re going to get with a new contract, so there’s less incentive for employees to agree to rules changes the airline wants.

The carrier is offering terms they say are more costly than what United and Delta have with their mechanics, so a common refrain from management has been that they would happily sign either the United or Delta deal today.

On the other hand American does want to outsource more maintenance work going forward. Even if it won’t wind up costing any union jobs or hours, unions are loathe to agree to it out of fear it reduces their leverage in the future.

Over at over at employee forums and town halls, maintenance workers express their frustrations. Anecdotally there are reports that some of American’s recent operational challenges stem from maintenance slow-walking addressing of issues with aircraft.

From the flyer’s perspective, though, should we care? We want happy employees because that means a smoother operation. The scariest thing is disgruntled mechanics. But what about outsourcing, should it matter to us whether employee union workers do heavy maintenance or whether it’s done by shops abroad?

  • Airline travel is safer than ever, and that’s worldwide not just in the U.S. Maintenance work abroad in most of the world is extremely safe. In fact in one ranking there’s only a single US carrier among the world’s 15 safest.

  • Indeed the safest airlines around the world have their maintenance done throughout the world.

  • Cheaper maintenance is better. It’s expensive maintenance than an airline might be more inclined to skimp on. The less expensive maintenance is, the easier it is to buy more of it.

I’m more worried about lapses in regulatory oversight where government inspectors get chummy with the people they’re around all the time in the U.S. and don’t call out their friends for maintenance problems. Outsourcing has a higher bar, both in terms of distance and scrutiny.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ll bite: Referring to USA airlines:

    (1) Maybe they should outsource the maintenance to Indian firms that hire H1B recipients like Disney did.
    (2) Maybe they should create a maintenance facilities in Mexico to take advantage of lower cost labor in Mexico. Did not Ross Perot say that the “wage differentials between the United States and Mexico” would result in “the giant sucking sound” of American jobs heading South of the Border. WTH, I would bet that Puerto Rico would still be a profitable enterprise zone instead of bankrupts had NAFTA not happened.
    (3) Maybe they should lay off higher cost older workers (with experience) to “get younger” as many firms do now-a-days. Great for paying for kids in college or saving for retirement. So much for the Life Cycle theory that investment advisers are taught: that is, that incomes increase as workers age, so they can save for retirement in their 40s and 50s.
    (4) Maybe they should implement an affirmative action program as most government agencies or colleges have. LOL. Good luck getting into Harvard if you happen to be a USA Asian. Your quota has been met. WTH. I have read in the WSJ, that USA Blacks are being turned down at colleges to bring in genuine African Blacks.
    (5) Maybe Musk could use robots to do airline maintenance and fire all the workers who are probably raising families. That is one current argument for socialism, the robots can work and we get a universal income and free internet. Cool huh.
    (6) Maybe we should pass no fire laws (with maximum benefits) like many European countries have. As a result, there is a whole generation of young people that cannot be hired for full time jobs, because it is too expensive. There are a whole raft of social problems that are being caused by that policy.
    (7) Or maybe, my family should take cash to work against the the interests of the American people. That is what politicians from both parties do every day. Peter Schweizer’s book ‘Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends is eye opening. According to Schweizer, politicians do not take suitcases of cash any more. Their friends and family are enriched. For example, he points out that Mitch McConnell’s wife’s Chinese family has become very rich with transportation contracts in China, while McConnell has become more and more favorable to China. Nothing to see here. No quid pro pro.

    I think I have said enough for someone to start a jihad against me. Maybe this deplorable should shut up and let my betters made decisions on these issues.

  2. Outsourcing has been commonplace at least since since deregulation (1978). In fact, it was the maintenance strategy of many startup carriers. So it is well understood and proven safe, or safer, than in-house maintenance.

    In American’s case it makes a loot of sense. If union members don’t find a job at AA to their taste they can just leave and the work given to somebody who does want to work. The customer is better off.

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