The House transportation committee chairman, Jim Oberstar, is drumming up the incensed and outraged for his hearing set for Thursday morning on FAA maintenance inspections. Oberstar’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing will excoriate the airlines, but his target will be the FAA and evidence of a “culture of coziness” demonstrates “a lack of an enforcement mindset” at the agency. “We need a change in attitudes at the highest levels of the FAA,” Oberstar said. While the FAA is his primary target, Oberstar (left, in a Slovenian maintenance facility) has secondary: US airline management’s increasing outsourcing of maintenance.
Oberstar took only a few shots at this practice of overseas and lower-cost maintenance contracting in press briefing about the hearing, he has a vigorous ally. Kevin Mitchell, the head of the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel departments and the like, has been soliciting signatures for a letter urging a deeper probe of outsourcing, both foreign and domestic, and plans a survey of business travel managers to show concern about with the issue. Mitchell is working with the Teamsters union.
The Teamsters union has made outsourcing a big organizing pitch issue this year; the union just won an election at United Airlines to enlist its mechanics after vowing to fight outsourcing at big network carriers. At United, the union ousted a smaller labor group, which had also made the fight against outsourcing its signature issue.
Mitchell and the BTC have usually reserved their clout - which can generate hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters from every part of the country to pretty much every congressional office - for other issues. He's lobbied on airport capacity, airport security 'Fast Lanes' and rules for computer reservation systems. But this safety-and-outsourcing nexus is a hot and headline-grabbing issue, and with a major FAA bill coming up this year or early in the next administration, Mitchell is certainly positioning himself to be ready to flex some muscle. As indeed is Oberstar.