AMFA’s Response to SNL Alaska Airlines Parody: “You Didn’t Die and You Got a Cool Story”
This past weekend SNL performed a parody television commercial for Alaska Airlines promoting a new slogan “You Didn’t Die and You Got a Cool Story.” We’re very fortunate to be able to laugh about this situation now, and we must admit, the skit was pretty funny. That being said, as the union representing the Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) at Alaska Airlines, we want to straighten out some misconceptions that are being perpetuated by the skit. The issue with the door plug coming out mid-air was not the fault of the airline nor its maintenance team. In fact, the plane in question was brand new — not more than a couple of months old. While the government authorities are still investigating the failure, it is pretty clear that this was an aircraft manufacturing quality assurance problem and not an Alaska Airlines problem.
As you dig deeper, one of the culprits in this incident and failure was corporate greed. In recent years, Boeing has struggled with quality issues; issues that can be traced back to a radical transformation in Boeing’s manufacturing process designed to reduce costs and increase company stock prices. Historically, Boeing was a more vertically integrated company, building a much larger percentage of the total plane, but in an effort to reduce costs, Boeing did two things that have proven to undermine their quality:
- Switch from manufacturer to assembler
Boeing decided to largely outsource the manufacturing of their planes and when the components, built by vendors across the globe, arrived at the Boeing plant, Boeing assembled the components into the final plane. In the past, Boeing manufactured many of the components it now outsources.
- Dramatically reduced the number of inspectors/quality personnel
Boeing, while outsourcing its manufacturing, assumed it was also outsourcing quality control, so it fired and displaced hundreds of quality control personnel and inspectors. The fact is, airlines buy the planes from Boeing and expect Boeing to control and guarantee their quality. Safety and quality control cannot be outsourced.
There were certainly other changes that conspired to create the situation Boeing is in today, but these are certainly two critical ones. AMFA — Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, a leading craft-trade-specific union organization for AMTs and engineers — is currently consulting with the Aviation Sub-Committee of the United States House of Representatives as they prepare for hearings on this issue. Outsourcing has become an issue of concern across the airline industry. Clearly, there is an issue with aircraft manufacturing and there is also an issue in airline maintenance with many of the commercial airlines outsourcing heavy maintenance of their aircraft offshore, to less rigorously regulated and monitored countries with lower costs, and unlicensed and less experienced labor.
We are hopeful that the recent issues with Boeing will shine a light on the risks of outsourcing across the airline industry and that the industry, labor, and governmental regulatory authorities can work together to reduce our reliance on outsourcing and reduce safety risks.