Union call for FAA safety umpires on AA shop floors is completely out of touch with SMS

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TWU-IAM Association Asks FAA to Assign Inspectors to American Airlines – IAMAW

IAMAW request ignores FAA request to work on collaborative culture

FAA has never provided real time FAR umpires on shop floor

SMS depends on trust; little indication that the safety discipline is working

The global and FAA standard for aviation safety is called Safety Management System. In the past, the regulatory regime was based on retroactive record checks, punishment and catch-up regulations. Now, proactive actions address risks identified by data collected, analyzed and prioritized.

The heart of that methodology is a full and accurate reporting of errors through VDRP, ASRS, ASAP and FOQA. All of those bytes are of diminished value IF those who participate anywhere in an airline (Aviation Maintenance Technician, Cockpit crew, cabin crew, training, etc.) are not invested in the principles of this advances risk reduction rubric. SMS depends on all of the safety stakeholders collaborating in assessing and rectifying risks!





This rudimentary recitation of SMS is an important predicate to the litigation– American Airlines versus TWU and IAM. The case brought by American on June 14 alleged that the unions had engaged in a conscious slowdown in work which was designed to pressure the bargaining.

Associate Administrator Bahrami, on June 24, wrote a letter to AA and the unions expressing concerns about the viability of SMS in a situation in which it was clear that management and labor were not trusting the words of the other party[1]. As explained by the opening paragraph and emphasized by Bahrami’s words, SMS may not be effective at AA.







Judge John McBryde agreed with AA and issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the IAM/UAW. The terms included a number of notices which the union leaders must communicate to the AA workers, signing of forms by every member concerning compliance and the posting of videos on the union website conveying the seriousness of the Judge’s order. The last paragraph is a source of some concern for the IAM/TWU:



The judge instructed the union to return to the same level of productivity which they achieved in 2018.


That order caused the union to write to the FAA demanding that inspectors be added to the floor shops to assure SAFETY. The specific request:

The IAM/TWU letter seems to ignore the existence of SMS.

First, the baseline of 2018 workload should be presumed to have been safe. If the mechanics were compelled to perform at unsafe levels, the individuals and/or the union SHOULD HAVE SUBMITTED ASRS, ASIAS OR VDRP reports. It appears that there were no such allegations of FAR violations.



Second, FAA inspectors never were assigned to observe the work being down on the shop floor. Their primary measure of safety errors was their review of records.

Third, the court order is framed in output terms. FAA’s standards are expressed in quality of work performed. The government representative can only determine if the work is airworthy. Slow pace may produce work suitable for return to service, but a mechanic may be able to work faster and still complete repairs in compliance. The FAA staff does not have the skills to judge the safety/speed calculus.

Fourth, the union complained that the judge’s order was “unprecedented in a labor law context”. It is surprising that the union sees placing FAA umpires in the middle of the workplace has any precedent either. FAA inspectors have never been called upon to call balls and strikes in real time.

Bahrami’s letter to both parties ask them to work to restore their “collaborative culture.” AA has espoused the principles of SMS, but one has to wonder if its declaration has been effective. The IAM/TWU’s request for FAA intervention and its apparent failure to use VRRP/ASRS/ASIAS or other tools to document the unsafe conditions which they allege exist shows little comprehension of or adherence to the state-of-the-art safety regime.

In any event this is not a situation conducive to AVIATION SAFETY. This unfortunate state of affairs should serve as an example to all safety professionals; SMS demands a high level of commitment!!!



[1] This lack of cooperation has been visible for a while– American’s Safety Culture May Not Be Working In Chicago


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