Your Signature - Your Integrity
By now you may have heard about a mechanic in Teterboro, NJ who was allegedly fired for not signing off a fuel leak on a Falcon 20. This story has been making the rounds on social media this week.
I’m not here to postulate what happened or who is in the wrong. I’m not a judge or a jury, and it’s not my place to speculate based on the information that is out there. What happened in this event and who is in the wrong is for the courts to decide (a lawsuit has been filed by the mechanic). Instead, I’d like to share some thoughts on the subject of being pressured to “pencil whip” maintenance items or inspections.
This is a tough situation to be placed in. I was personally pressured two times in my early mechanic days to sign off items for the sake of making a flight.
Once, when I was working on the flight line, I noted an excessive amount of oil in the accessory section of a T-34 I was inspecting between flights. I wrote it up and turned it in to maintenance control. Another mechanic came to the plane and doused the area with contact cleaner (probably a gallon or so), and after that it looked nice and clean. I was called into maintenance control and was asked by the manager to re-write my inspection sheet without the oil leak noted on it. He said that it was just some residual oil from the breather hose and it would be just fine (he never went to the aircraft to look at him for himself). I refused to do so, and he commenced to throw expletives my way in front of everyone in the office. After nobody else (including the mechanic who doused the engine area) was talked into signing it off, the aircraft was pulled in the hangar, and a leaking accessory spline seal was replaced. The manager later apologized to me after he had cooled down.
Another time, when I was working scheduled maintenance in the hangar, there was another aircraft with pitting corrosion on the surface of a wing spar attach point. Those spar attach points are extremely beefy, and the corrosion was minor. However, the maintenance manual did not allow for ANY corrosion in this area. A QA inspector came to me and asked if I would could remove the corrosion and treat the area. He would then approve the aircraft for return to service through an “off-the-record” acceptance. I wouldn’t do it. The aircraft was brought in for a wing spar change.
I was fortunate I worked for a good company. Despite the pressure from the two individuals in these two instances and my refusal to accept their requests, I was never threatened with any sort of retribution. Pressure like this was definitely NOT the norm. It was just two specific circumstances where the individuals felt they were doing what they needed to do to accomplish the mission of getting the planes back in service. They crossed the line. Luckily, I chose not to step over that line with them.
The late Bill O’Brien always said, “We make airworthiness decisions which are either black or white, right or wrong. There is no grey area when it comes to airworthiness. Your integrity is your signature. Once you cross that line and falsify a maintenance document, you can never go back. Your integrity will never be trusted.”
Thanks for reading!