ST Aerospace Mobile Employee Interview Selects
Correspondent Miles O'Brien interviewed several ST Mobile employees during the course of reporting Flying Cheaper. Below are edited interview selects with those who agreed to talk -- under the stipulation that we protect their identities -- that were later shown to veteran FAA inspector Linda Goodrich.
PRESSURE TO "GET IT DONE"
"John": They were constantly highly pressured from the project managers down to the leads to "do whatever it takes to get the job done." And I think they circumvent, they cut corners; and the corners they cut, in order to get something done, sometimes the lead would sign it and then sell it to the company inspector.
I've heard the term "inspector shopping." Does that go on?
John: Oh, absolutely -- yeah. There's people that look for an inspector because they know he's an easy hitter, you know. He'll hit your card, or whatever, and then shoo you away.
Define pencil whipping for people. What does that mean?
"Bob": If I was pencil whipping a job, that means I'm just going to sign it off and lie about what I did, and shop for me an inspector who'll say, "Yeah, man. I'll stamp that because that wasn't important anyway. We're going to pencil whip that and get it done so that we don't lose time, you know, fixing it." "Well, that's not really that bad so why fix it? That will make it another … through the next check, so let's go ahead and sign it off." That's pencil whipping is when you sign it off without doing the maintenance.
You whipped the problem with a pencil, not a wrench.
Bob: That's right, that's pencil whipping.
So if the culture is do it fast, get the plane out the door…
Bob: Let's get it out. Let's get it out of here on time because we can't afford to be late, because we don't want to lose this contract and every body needs a job and, you know, one of those deals.
So there's a series of problems with airplanes that come out of this facility and that raises the attention of the FAA and they announce that they're coming for an inspection. First of all, if they're going to inspect, do they just kind of come up and knock on the door and come in?
"Bob": No, they give prior warning.
So tell me about this particular inspection. How much warning did everybody have?
Bob: A few weeks. I would say two weeks, probably a little more than two weeks … that we knew this was going to happen.
Two weeks of warning and did the FAA indicate what it was looking for?
Bob: They gave a list of specifics that they would look into.
Did you know what those specifics were?
Bob: We were told.
Everybody was told…
Bob: We had meetings. Every project was given a meeting and we were informed on the things that we needed to go ahead and prepare for. …
"John": At ST, it was always announced whenever the FAA was going to make an appearance, and things were cleaned up and put away, and everybody had, well, you know, was well advised that they were coming. It was never random.
See, you had plenty of advance warning -- a few weeks or more. In that period of time, what happened in that hangar? Were you guys focused on getting ready for this inspection?
"Bob: We cleaned up.We threw stuff away. We went through our toolboxes and made sure there was nothing in there. We re-arranged. It was amazing all the stuff that was thrown out. We had dumpsters full of stuff carried away. We had dumpsters carried out of there constantly.
What kind of stuff were you throwing away?
Bob: Aircraft parts that were unmarked; the trackability on there … if the trackability of an aircraft part is invalid, then that part is no good and it's supposed to be destroyed and got rid of.
So wait a minute. So these are parts that are illegal.
Bob: That would be the easy way to say it, an illegal part.
And if the FAA had not been coming in, would they have gone on the airplane?
Bob: We would have kept them parts until they were needed and then they would have gone on an aircraft, yes.
Editors' Note: Read ST Mobile's response to questions from FRONTLINE about undocumented/untagged airline parts here.
"Tom": We had massive cleanup. They rented I don't know how many Penske -- I want to say Penske trucks and they were coming in and out on a 24/7 basis, moving stuff off the facility into another facility.
So the FAA's gone away and these parts come right back into the airplanes.
Tom: Sure. Sure. As needed.
So eventually what is happening is parts that don't have the paperwork, parts that are illegal, end up on airplanes that fly passengers around this country.
I think that would shock a lot of people.
Tom: That would -- yeah, that would shock me, and it did shock me.