FAA Shuts Landing-Gear Repair Company

The FAA issued an emergency order temporarily suspending the certificate of Miami repair station AAR ++Landing Gear Services.
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Updated from 2:13 p.m. EST

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Federal Aviation Administration has shut down a Miami maintenance shop that returned more than a dozen landing-gear parts to three airlines, saying the parts were inadequately repaired. The shop's work was also investigated after a 2007 landing gear failure in Charlotte.

The FAA issued an emergency order temporarily suspending the certificate of Miami repair station

AAR ++Landing Gear Services

, a subsidiary of Wood Dale, Ill.-based

AAR

(AIR) - Get Report

.

The agency said the order followed inspections revealing that AAR did not follow

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

maintenance manual procedures for conducting liquid penetrant exams, intended to detect cracks and corrosion, before returning landing-gear parts to service. Nor did it follow proper procedures for shot peening, a process intended to harden the surface of metal parts and remove corrosion, or for cadmium plating, a process for applying a coating to metal parts to prevent corrosion.

Rather, "AAR employed defective processes and followed defective inspection protocols" and, as a result, "returned aircraft parts to service as being overhauled when they were not, and failed to perform required maintenance procedures," the FAA said.

Between 2006 and 2008, AAR returned about 15 improperly maintained landing-gear parts for Boeing aircraft to

UPS

(UPS) - Get Report

,

US Airways

(LCC)

and

Southwest

(LUV) - Get Report

, the agency said in a letter sent to AAR on Tuesday.

All three airlines said their operations are safe and they are closely monitoring the situation.

"The parts in question are in quarantine," said UPS Air Group spokesman Mike Mangeot. US Airways' "short-term exposure to the closure of the AAR Miami facility is limited and we are developing alternative plans to manage our landing-gear supply chain," said spokeswoman Michelle Mohr. Southwest is deciding whether it should seek another vendor, said spokesman Paul Flaningan.

An AAR spokesman said Thursday that the company will appeal the shutdown.

In a prepared statement, AAR seemed to suggest it is exasperated, saying it has been fully engaged with the FAA, hiring consultants, boosting its quality assurance efforts and passing 25 quality and process audits by customers, including the Department of Defense.

The company said it took corrective action in July after the FAA issued a notice of alleged discrepancies. In November, it met with FAA representatives to discuss those actions. Last month, it said, it received a follow-up letter from the FAA identifying items requiring further attention. It said it "was in the process of responding to that request when it received the order of suspension."

"We have worked diligently with the FAA over the past year to respond to its concerns," said CEO David Storch in the statement. "We remain committed to resolving this matter as expeditiously as possible."

The landing-gear services business represents about 6% of total sales, AAR said. AAR shares closed Thursday at $16.94, down 14 cents.

In an earlier incident, the subject of another investigation, faulty work by AAR Landing Gear Services apparently resulted in the collapse of landing gear on a US Airways Boeing 757 that was parked at the gate in Charlotte.

The landing gear collapsed in October 2007 as roughly 20,000 pounds of jet fuel was loaded onto Tampa-bound Flight 1753, which was waiting to depart with 195 passengers aboard. No one was injured, but the incident raised serious questions. Had the gear collapsed under weight at a different time, such as when the aircraft was landing, the outcome might have been far worse.

Immediately following the Charlotte incident, the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and US Airways all investigated. US Airways inspected the landing gear on five other 757s that had gear work performed by AAR, and replaced some of the truck beams. The truck beam is the main component of the landing gear, a horizontal bar connecting the front and rear axles.

In that case, the FAA said AAR Landing Gear Services improperly maintained the truck beam on the main landing gear in about 350 cases involving various Boeing models between Jan. 1, 2001, and Nov. 26, 2007. The FAA said all affected operators were notified of the suspect parts in March 2008, and corrective action was taken.