In the past the US FAA had to release an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) or even a really interesting standard AD in order for press to get jump-up-and-down excited about the agency’s routine recommendations to airlines, operators, manufacturers and parts suppliers about aircraft maintenance and the like. But now, at a time when maintenance practices are under significant regulatory scrutiny in the USA, a regular ole unapproved parts notification (UPN) from a local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) gains high-profile notice and the story can unfold quite fiercely from there.
Take, for example, yesterday’s saga, which is still playing out today. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FAA has found evidence an AAR maintenance facility in Miami improperly maintained and approved for return to service Boeing 707, 747, 757, and 767 series main landing gear (MLG) truck beams. Before we delve into the details, let’s remember that about ten of these types of notices are issued to various firms per year, and generally go fairly unnoticed.
In the latest UPN, AAR Landing Gear Services’ application of Boeing “color 707 gray gloss enamel” inside the surface area of the truck beams is being called to task. The FAA also says AAR Landing Gear Services failed to document – and approved for return-to-service - Boeing 757s with the application of the enamel inside the surface area of the truck beams, contrary to manuals and an alert service bulletin directed by a 2001 airworthiness directive (AD).
The actions of that AD, applicable to certain 757-200 and -300 series airplanes, were intended to prevent stress corrosion cracking, leading to fracture of a MLG truck beam during ground operations, which could result in either reduced controllability of the airplane or a fire, according to AD.
Here is a pretty comprehensive report from Danish authorities on what happens when corrosion cracking occurs - from its report on a 2001 incident.
But to be clear, while the FAA is encouraging inspections, the agency’s UPN does not require taking any corrective action nor does it change the time a landing gear with painted interior surfaces can remain in service nor does it require the removal of any landing gear from service, notes AAR.
Even the airline that experienced a recent landing gear failure as a consequence of a truck beam fracture - while the 757 was parked - seems to be downplaying the event. “We had a truck beam fracture in the landing gear and the aircraft settled," says US Airways.
"As a result, we inspected five other 757s that had gear work performed by the same vendor, and we replaced some of the truck beams based on the indicators we were using."
“However none of the other aircraft ended up having a similar problem. And we (as well as the rest of the industry) did receive an Unapproved Parts Notice from the FAA but since we already inspected and replaced the truck beams we’re already in compliance.”
So what does this all mean to AAR, which was on a very-recent high after reporting double-digit sales growth for the 2008 fiscal third quarter in all four of the company’s sectors. Is the stock now undervalued and is it time to buy?
The photo of the truck beam failure above is NOT a photo of the cited US Airways 757 incident, but rather one of the many items you can find in that Danish report.