Over the weekend, a Boeing 757 with the tail number N191AN (pictured below), was discovered to have had seats improperly installed throughout the coach section of the airplane, including seats that blocked over wing emergency exits, the APEX editor’s blog can reveal.
Asked whether seats in the upright position, and forward of the emergency exits, interfered with access to the exits – as observed at New York JFK, where the aircraft arrived for a maintenance check on 25 January – an American spokeswoman for the airline minimised the problem. “We recently discovered an aircraft that had a row of seats slightly out of configuration,” said Andrea Huguely. She denied that the hatches over the wings were blocked.
The aircraft had undergone heavy maintenance at Timco in Greensboro, North Carolina, a subcontractor for American in November. When it returned to service on 5 December 2012, it flew nearly every day for more than seven weeks making three transatlantic flights to Europe. The majority of the trips were between New York and destinations in the Caribbean.
If the FAA finds installation errors did restrict access to emergency exits the airline could be fined.
“It’s a big deal because the egress of the airplane depends on direct access,” said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, and now safety consultant in private practice.
Last fall, American made headlines when seats disengaged from the floor tracks on four flights. On one, passengers were tipped over into the laps of the travellers behind them. Forty eight 757 airliners were grounded. After interviewing workers at Timco, Edward Macaskill, a maintenance manager at the airline wrote a memo that said: “There was no consistent understanding of how the seats were supposed to be installed.”
The FAA opened an investigation into the seat installation problems and in a statement on today said, “We have conducted several audits and investigative visits at Timco.”
In a statement, the FAA said its investigation into this latest report was unrelated to the earlier problems. ”The seats were installed correctly, but in the wrong place. The previous investigation had to do with seats that popped loose from their tracks.”
By regulation, the airline is responsible for maintenance even if it is performed by a subcontractor, the FAA said.
Asked if Timco had incorporated new training procedures for its workers and what plans it had to address what appeared to be a continuing problem with seat installation, Leonard Kazmerski vice president of marketing and business development at Timco Aviation Services said the company had no comment.
“It is mind boggling that they can’t get the seats right,” Goglia said. “If they can’t get the seats right, what can they do correctly?”
Goglia, along with Bill Norman of Timco and David Giustozzi of American Airlines were part of a FAA-sponsored workshop on challenges in maintenance in November. In a 22-page report, a number of problems facing maintenance workers were discussed. Timco’s Norman said maintenance workers were overwhelmed with documents, describing one repair to an Airbus A320 that required, one airworthiness directive, 11 service bulletin references and 62 task card maintenance manual references or what he said was “6.25 pounds of reference data”.
“We have known for a long time that we have problems,” Goglia said. “People problems, procedure problems, paperwork problems, the list goes on.” This latest news shouldn’t just embarrass American and Timco, Goglia said but raises the question of FAA oversight, too.
“Maybe the FAA will finally get motivated to focus on these issues,” he said.
(Photo of N191AN snapped by writer and photographer Jason Rabinowitz.)