Flying Cheaper

Update: Lawsuit faults maintenance for cabin fumes

Monday, April 18th, 2011 

Sixteen US Airways pilots and flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against ST Aerospace Mobile, alleging the contract maintenance company conducted improper maintenance that led to employee illnesses.

ST Mobile was the focus of Flying Cheaper, a PBS FRONTLINE and Investigative Reporting Workshop co-production that looked at airline maintenance issues.

The lawsuit claims that immediately after the servicing of a US Airways 767 plane at ST, toxic fumes from engine oil and/or hydraulic fluid began leaking into the ventilation system. The suit covers six "fume events" on the same plane over a four-month period. The worst of which occurred on Jan. 16, 2010, when eight passengers were treated and seven crewmembers were hospitalized. The two pilots on that flight are still out on medical leave.

There were a number of issues that should have been red flags to [ST Mobile]," said the plantiffs’ lawyer Bob Spohrer. "Instead this aircraft was signed off by ST Aerospace as being airworthy when it was not."

In response to the Workshop’s questions about the lawsuit, Joseph Ng, ST Aerospace Mobile’s president, wrote in an email that US Airways had not contacted ST about the plane’s problems and that, "We are confident that the work that MAE performed did not cause or contribute to the alleged fumes in the aircraft."

US Airways contracts out much of its maintenance to companies such as ST Aerospace in Mobile, Ala., and Aeroman in El Salvador. US Airways spokesperson Michelle Mohr said in an email it has no comment on its employees’ lawsuit but that ST Aerospace has performed heavy maintenance on virtually every aircraft type for US Airways, and "at no time has safety been compromised as a result of our use of third parties that perform some maintenance on US Airways aircraft."

During its production of Flying Cheaper, the Workshop obtained internal ST Aerospace safety memos revealing how the company had failed to properly oversee work that led to fuel leaks on three other US Airways planes. These problems, ST warned in the memo, "could have resulted in serious aircraft mishaps."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency had no comment on the lawsuit. For all seven FAA reports the Workshop found listing odors aboard the US Airways plane involved in the lawsuit, see here.