Until Wednesday, American Airlines' maintenance was like its name: American.

It is the last big airline to maintain its own planes with its own people.

In the carrier's first firm announcement of proposed changes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the airline said it would be outsourcing some of its maintenance overseas.

There are dozens of firms across the country that specialize in the maintenance airlines no longer care to do in North Carolina, California, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

While some of these firms are located within the United States, many of their workers are brought in from overseas to save money, News 8 has found.

A News 8 investigation of San Antonio Aerospace, a unit of Singapore Technologies, found that hundreds of foreign workers were imported to work on the aircraft of U.S. carriers at the company's sprawling facility in San Antonio.

Delta Air Lines and UPS are among San Antonio Aerospace customers.

News 8 found some workers could not speak English, requiring translators to help them fill out the airport security forms needed for admittance to the San Antonio airport facilities.

ST Aerospace in Mobile, Alabama also employed hundreds of low-wage foreign workers, many of whom were from overseas, News 8 found.

US Airways was among the airlines employing the Mobile facility.

News 8 found these workers foreign are typically paid a fraction of what mechanics for airlines are paid, even though the repair facilities are in the United States. They are often defined as subcontractors and paid no benefits.

In some cases, the maintenance facility houses them at its own expense.

Many airlines fly their heavy jets Boeing 747s, 767s, and Airbuses overseas to China, Singapore, El Salvador, Mexico and Costa Rica when they need substantial overhauls.

The cost to the airline is reduced. The U.S. mechanics who are outsourced often leave the business.

When you bring in a person who can't read the manual, you raise the risk, said former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia in a 2009 interview with News 8. When you bring in a person who doesn't understand the verbal instructions from a co-worker to his supervisor, you raise the risk. It doesn't take a lot of tic marks in raising the risk before we have ourselves a serious problem.

Maintenance outsourcing is not just a U.S. business. Many airlines fly their aircraft overseas for extensive maintenance.

In 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration told News 8 it was not concerned with the quality of the work done by outsourced providers in the U.S. or overseas. The agency says because it has inspectors at all repair stations, the work is monitored from start to finish.

It's far too early to tell where American Airlines will send its repair business. It will make a difference in the bottom line.

And for workers, their jobs.


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