American to Outsource Maintenance to TIMCO

TIMCO involved in an Immigration Roundup in 2005
Undocumented Workers Caught Doing Aircraft Maintenance

Interesting article today regarding American's plan to outsource some of Tulsa's 757 maintenance to TIMCO Aviation Services in Greensboro, NC. Understanding how most American Airlines employees feel about outsourced maintenance, I took the liberty of looking into TIMCO to see exactly what there is to know about them.

Without doing too much investigative work, it appears that American's new maintenance contractor was apparently involved in an illegal immigration roundup in 2005. As the media reported:

Federal agents detained 27 workers at TIMCO, 24 of whom are charged with being in the United States illegally. Most came from labor contractors who provide TIMCO with temporary workers.

In the TIMCO investigation, one of S.M.A.R.T.'s officials, Jorge Ruiz-Alonso, also known as Jorge Ruiz or George Ruiz, is charged with giving fake documents to an illegal immigrant in October 2000 so the foreigner could work in the TIMCO facility as a S.M.A.R.T. Employee.

Looking a little further:

The labor contractor, Structural Modification and Repair Technicians or S.M.A.R.T., also figured in the January 2003 crash at Charlotte of US Airways Express Flight 5481, which killed all 21 aboard.

A post-crash inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board partly attributed the fatal accident to a S.M.A.R.T. mechanic-in-training who improperly adjusted controls.

While I don't know much about aircraft maintenance, as a flight attendant, I do take maintenance very seriously. The idea that non-American Airlines employees are going to be doing American's aircraft maintenance concerns me. While I could be wrong, it does appear that TIMCO isn't afraid to outsource work themselves if they feel they can get it done cheaper.

Please visit TWU Local 514 to support keeping AA's maintenance in Tulsa where it belongs. We want American Airlines employees doing American Airlines maintenance, not some undocumented worker.

Rock Salomon

American to outsource work on 757 fleet
By D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer

American Airlines has notified its Transport Workers Union in Tulsa that the company will outsource heavy maintenance on four Boeing 757 aircraft by Nov. 1, company and union officials said.

The 757 work will be performed by TIMCO Aviation Services, an independent aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul provider in Greensboro, N.C.

The 757 heavy maintenance, or "C checks," normally are performed at American's Maintenance and Engineering Center at Tulsa International Airport, company and union officials said, and the work takes from three to four weeks to complete.

American executives said a backlog of maintenance work at the Tulsa base compels the company to outsource the 757 maintenance as a temporary solution.

"American Airlines takes a very strategic approach to its maintenance planning needs," said American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. "At this time, a short-term solution is required to address a large number of heavy maintenance checks for a portion of American's fleet.

"Over several years, we have outsourced a very few, specialized projects, usually on a short-term basis. That work is a minuscule fraction of our overall maintenance operation."

Spokesmen for the TWU's Local 514 in Tulsa, however, said American management knew about the 757 heavy maintenance requirements more than a year ago, failed to plan for the work and refused to consider TWU proposals for performing the maintenance in-house.

"This is another example of management failing to listen to its labor force and plan properly for the future," said John Hewitt, Local 514's chairman of maintenance. "Over a year ago, management decided to defer important maintenance items on the 757 fleet until a later date, and then we began to hear that some of the 757 work would be outsourced.

"In response, the TWU officers and members formed a '757 Save Team' that studied the situation and approached management with recommendations for keeping the work in Tulsa. They did not listen. The contract between American Airlines and the TWU clearly states that this maintenance work is to be accomplished by the TWU. It's time for management to start listening to its workers."

American is nearly alone among its airline competitors in performing its heavy aircraft maintenance at its own facilities with its own mechanics, industry officials say.

In the last decade, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways shed their in-house heavy maintenance capabilities through the bankruptcy process.

American averted a bankruptcy in 2003 when the TWU, the Allied Pilots Association and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants agreed to $1.6 billion a year in wage and benefit concessions.

Talk of the possibility of bankruptcy has swirled again recently. Parent AMR Corp.'s stock plunged to a 52-week low of $1.75 on Oct. 3. It rebounded somewhat last week to close at $2.50.

The situation is being watched closely by local civic leaders because American employs more than 7,000 people in Tulsa. The M&E center positions, especially, are considered high-wage jobs with good benefits.

The loss of a significant number of those jobs would be a blow to the local economy, observers say.

As AMR continues to report annual losses - it has posted three straight annual losses and is the only major U.S. carrier forecast by analysts to report losses in 2011 and next year - some Wall Street types have urged the company to sell its maintenance operation.

If American struggles with a $600 million to $800 million labor cost disadvantage compared with its competitors, shedding its aircraft maintenance division would reduce that disparity, analysts said.

As recently as three years ago, American executives said that although American's labor costs are higher, they are offset by superior quality, faster turn-times and availability of tooling and parts.

Today, some American mechanics sense management has a much less favorable view of the company's in-house maintenance operations.

Local 514 spokesman Terry Lesperance referred to the statement made a year ago by Jeff Brundage, American's senior vice president of human resources, that American's labor costs are "a big brick in our backpack to being competitive in this industry."

Lesperance said management increasingly sees American's maintenance operations as a cost center, rather than a profit center.

"When it comes to aircraft maintenance, (former Vice President of Base Maintenance) Carmine Romano and the management that prided themselves on aircraft maintenance have retired," Lesperance said. "Since Carmine left (two years ago), it's really been difficult."

TWU officials say the 757 C checks, which involve stripping flooring, seats, panels, overhead bins, communications and entertainment systems from the plane so every component can be inspected and tested, can be performed in Tulsa in 22 to 30 days.

TIMCO is scheduled to do the 757 heavy maintenance in 35 days, Lesperance said.

American's Huguely said the company planned for the 757 work, but it has taken longer than expected.

"There is only a set amount of space, machinery and employees to complete this maintenance work in-house," Huguely said. "If the work is not done in time, the aircraft would have to be grounded, forcing the airline to cancel flights and adversely affecting our customers and employees.

"As a result - and as a short-term solution - we are sending four 757 aircraft to TIMCO Aviation. ... Keep in mind, that's four of 124 planes in American's 757 fleet. That means our TWU employees will still handle nearly 97 percent of our 757 maintenance."

Michael Boyd, who follows American for Boyd Group International in Evergreen, Colo., said the Fort Worth carrier has limited hangar space and employees to maintain its 600-aircraft fleet.

"Airplanes are like teenagers. You have to know them to fix them," Boyd said. "In the long run, you can fix them cheaper in-house. TWU has worked with the company in the past to reduce costs. You don't want to mess with an asset like that."

Lesperance said American should take its cue from Lufthansa German Airlines.

"Lufthansa Technik was a spinoff of Lufthansa Airlines," Lesperance said, "and now they're more profitable than the airline."

Calls for comment to TIMCO Aviation Services were not returned.

FAA licensed 5 arrested at TIMCO
By Taft Wireback, Staff Writer
News & Record

GREENSBORO -- Five of those arrested on immigration charges at TIMCO two weeks ago had high-level repair licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating how they qualified for licensing tests, the agency said Wednesday.

FAA administrators are looking into documents used by the five in seeking the right to test for Airframe and Powerplant certification, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The A&P license allows mechanics to work on the more complex parts of a plane.

"To our knowledge, they all passed the written, oral and practical tests," said Bergen, who works at the FAA's Atlanta regional office.

It's permissible for foreigners to test for an A&P license as long as they provide valid proof of training and experience, which can come from their home country and is then verified by the U.S. State Department, Bergen said.

Dave Latimer, a TIMCO vice president, said those rounded up in the illegal-immigration sweep were skilled mechanics whose only problem was "the location on earth where they were performing their duties and their (right) to be here."

Latimer said that all their work was double checked by FAA-licensed supervisors who weren't illegal immigrants and, often, by additional quality-control inspectors.

"All of the work that these individuals did had to be accepted by properly trained and certified inspection personnel," Latimer said.

Federal agents detained 27 workers at TIMCO, 24 of whom are charged with being in the United States illegally. Most came from labor contractors who provide TIMCO with temporary workers. TIMCO was not implicated, agents said.

But the director of a union representing airlines mechanics suggested it would be hard to properly supervise so many people. He said the situation at TIMCO is only the tip of the iceberg for a problem affecting aviation nationwide.

"It is hard to believe management can watch all these illegal immigrants at their work place," said O.V. Delle-Femine of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, a union representing 18,000 mechanics. "How many individuals come under the supervisor's purview? Is it 10, 20 or 30 assigned to one supervisor?"

Meanwhile, an official with one of TIMCO's labor contractors had a hearing Wednesday on criminal charges stemming from the arrests and was denied bail. Jorge Ruiz-Alonso, 60, a Venezuelan, is accused of helping an illegal immigrant get work at TIMCO using fake green and Social Security cards.

Ruiz-Alonso, himself accused of being an illegal immigrant, worked five years for Structural Modification and Repair Technicians, or S.M.A.R.T., a labor contractor that put four of those charged as illegal immigrants at TIMCO.

One of Ruiz-Alonso's friends who attended the hearing, Ninel Perez, said he should not be considered an illegal immigrant and that he did not do wrong at TIMCO.

"He was one of the guys who would say to people, 'You don't have (legal immigration) papers. Come back when you have papers,' " she said, meaning he refused to hire illegal immigrants to work at TIMCO.

Ruiz-Alonso has been in the United States since about 1980, not 1993 as the government contends, she said. He belongs to a group of pre-1982, illegal immigrants whose status was clouded by class-action lawsuits settled recently after dragging on for a decade, Perez said.

He was taking steps to apply for citizenship through a settlement in the cases when he was arrested, Perez said.

Special Agent D. Brent Perley of the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement testified that the roundup at TIMCO took place after investigators heard "from a variety of sources" about illegal immigrants in the aviation-maintenance plant at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

In a search of Ruiz-Alonso's office at the airport, agents confiscated his S.M.A.R.T. computer hard drive and several boxes of documents, which agents are examining, Perley said.

He said federal immigration files contain only one transaction with Ruiz-Alonso in the mid-1990s, a petition to visit a year as a farm worker.

FAA spokeswoman Bergen said she could not identify the five facing immigration charges who hold A&P licenses at TIMCO. Latimer declined to identify them.

A check of the FAA's Web site showed three with mechanical licenses: Peruvian Percy Vega Sr., 53, Panamanian Jorge Chacon, 53, and Adonisio Hungwe, 44, of Zimbabwe.

So far, only one of the five, Vega, has been charged with a crime linked to the licensing. He is accused of qualifying to take the licensing test by misleading FAA officials in Greensboro about his experience in airplane repair.

Some of the A&P licensees believed to be illegal immigrants may have performed the sophisticated repair tasks at TIMCO that their license allowed; others worked on less technical areas, Latimer said.

But none of them single-handedly did anything that was not inspected in detail by at least one supervisor, he said.

Contractor figured in Charlotte plane crash
3-22-05 By Taft Wireback, Staff Writer
News & Record

GREENSBORO -- The investigation at TIMCO marks the second time in as many years a negative spotlight is shining on a Florida contractor that allegedly put illegal immigrants into the aircraft-maintenance plant in western Greensboro.

The labor contractor, Structural Modification and Repair Technicians or S.M.A.R.T., also figured in the January 2003 crash at Charlotte of US Airways Express Flight 5481, which killed all 21 aboard.

A post-crash inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board partly attributed the fatal accident to a S.M.A.R.T. mechanic-in-training who improperly adjusted controls.
In the TIMCO investigation, one of S.M.A.R.T.'s officials, Jorge Ruiz-Alonso, also known as Jorge Ruiz or George Ruiz, is charged with giving fake documents to an illegal immigrant in October 2000 so the foreigner could work in the TIMCO facility as a S.M.A.R.T. employee.

Five of the 24 people arrested March 8 at TIMCO on immigration charges, including Ruiz- Alonso, were S.M.A.R.T. workers, said Brian Peterson, vice president of the Edgewater, Fla., company.

The arrests two weeks ago were part of the federal government's "Operation Tarmac," an effort to get illegal immigrants out of such security-sensitive settings as airports, nuclear power plants and other utilities.

Peterson said the two incidents in North Carolina since 2003 are not indicative of S.M.A.R.T.'s general character nor its skill in providing temporary aviation workers.

"We've been in business for over 15 years and have provided probably a million man-hours (of maintenance) without an incident," Peterson said.

But TIMCO has severed its seven-year relationship with the company because of the criminal allegations involving Ruiz-Alonso, said Dave Latimer, a TIMCO vice president.

"We just can't have that in our business," Latimer said, adding that it would take many reforms for S.M.A.R.T. to be reinstated.

"They're certainly out for now," Latimer said, noting the Florida company was discharged last week when allegations emerged against Ruiz-Alonso. "Never say never, but I would not see it (reinstatement) happening any time soon."

Another six of the 24 alleged illegal immigrants were on TIMCO's own payroll as permanent workers.

But Latimer said that happened inadvertently despite his company's best efforts, not through the outright fraud of which Ruiz-Alonso is accused.

Latimer said TIMCO would eject any other labor contractor implicated in the investigation. Two weeks ago, federal agents said they were looking into 10, including S.M.A.R.T.

S.M.A.R.T. executive Peterson said that Ruiz-Alonso, 60, a Venezuelan living in Greensboro, had been with his company between five and eight years.

Ruiz-Alonso did not work on aircraft at TIMCO, but as a "field coordinator" for S.M.A.R.T. who screened temporary workers the Florida contractor placed at TIMCO in exchange for fees.
Latimer said TIMCO believes it is in "pretty good shape" now for having removed all illegal immigrants from its payroll and those of its other labor contractors.

Federal agents said in a complaint against Ruiz-Alonso that they searched his home at 7104 W. Friendly Ave. and his S.M.A.R.T. offices in the TIMCO complex at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

They found at least one of the allegedly falsified documents in S.M.A.R.T.'s files, investigators said.

Peterson said S.M.A.R.T. was "very surprised" by Ruiz-Alonso's alleged misdeeds; the company did a thorough background check before hiring him and had no idea he was here illegally.

In the Charlotte crash, Flight 5481 was rising rapidly when it went into a fatal sideways maneuver 37 seconds into takeoff Jan. 8, 2003.

The NTSB said a S.M.A.R.T. mechanic learning on the job in Huntington, W.Va., had incorrectly rigged the plane's elevator cables governing up-and-down motion. Pilots lost control.

TIMCO was not involved. Another aviation-maintenance company was cited for not checking the work.

Federal safety inspectors said the plane also crashed because airline workers loaded it too heavily and distributed excess weight improperly.

TIMCO and S.M.A.R.T. are part of a controversial aspect in modern-day aviation called outsourcing, in which major airlines no longer do substantial amounts of their own maintenance.

Instead, they send it to companies like TIMCO, which call on labor contractors such as S.M.A.R.T. to provide temporary staffing as needed.

Critics believe that maintenance was better when most was done in-house. Supporters say the only difference is lower costs for airlines.

Part of the lowered cost stems from using temporary workers who can be hired and let go as a company's needs rise or fall.

Peterson said his company could not control whether a field employee such as Ruiz-Alonso might violate federal laws and hire an illegal immigrant to work at TIMCO without the headquarters' knowledge.

"He's no longer employed with us," Peterson said of Ruiz-Alonso, adding that the company has "zero tolerance" for violation of the nation's immigration laws.

Contact Taft Wireback at 373-7100 or