London, July 18 : A survey of aircraft maintenance engineers, who check flights to and from the UK, has revealed that airlines across Europe are flying planes with known defects, as pilots often fail to report faults when they find them.
Many pilots only reported faults such as brake fluid leaks and loss of cabin pressure only after completing their homebound flights or after the day's flights and not when they found them. The delay allowed airlines to fix faults at a more convenient time and avoided extra expense.
Around 80 to 90 per cent of the faults were reported after pilot had made a homebound flight or after the end of the day's flying schedule.
Aircraft Engineers International (AEI), a global body of 45,000 aviation maintenance engineers, asked its members to carry out voluntary inspections of airliner logbooks that contain all information about a plane's faults and when they were reported.
One engineer examined 40 logbooks involving over 3,000 flights, and found that 90 per cent of defects were reported after the homebound flight or at the end of the day.
According to The Independent, the AEI survey said precise data on the flights involved could not be released, but hoped that it would prompt Europe's aviation regulators to carry out their own random checks of logbooks to stamp out late reporting.
AEI Secretary General Fred Bruggeman said: "We are positive that if regulators examined logbooks in the way we have, they will discover exactly the same pattern of late reporting. Their shocking lack of response makes it clear to us that they do not want to open Pandora's Box. We fear regulators had become too cosy with the aviation industry and are not taking our safety concerns seriously enough."
The UK's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said it had carried out inspections of logbooks and was satisfied with its safety measures.
CAA Spokesperson Richard Taylor said: "The AEI have been making these claims for some time, but they have so far failed to provide us with specific examples. We have carried out our own checks and have found no discrepancies. If they do have any documentary evidence that anyone is failing to report faults, they have a duty to pass on this information to us."
But Robert Alway, head of Alea, which represents 2,000 maintenance engineers in the United Kingdom, said that his members had come under pressure from employers for revealing fault data.
He added, "The CAA and other European regulators must have a look for this irregular reporting pattern themselves. If they do, we are in no doubt they will find the same irregular reporting pattern."
Frank Taylor, an air accident investigator, said that the logbook check had uncovered a worrying finding. Aircrafts can fly for a limited period with certain items out of service. If that is used responsibly, it is a sensible system. But the problem starts if that system is abused, or if an airline is deliberately falsifying the accounts by flying back with something, which is not on that list. Economics are so powerful in the aviation industry that it is possible that airlines might ignore things they shouldn't ignore."
The budget airline Ryanair said it had not seen the pattern of reporting AEI alleged but that it was "aware that it was a problem for other airlines".
Virgin Atlantic said that, as a long-haul carrier, pilots reported after each flight because crews were replaced after each trip. British Airways said that its own safety inspectors had not found that faults were disproportionately being reported at convenient times - and that its safety checks were in accordance with EU regulations.
British Airways spokesperson said: "Our pilots report defect as soon as it is found. Ultimately, we would not operate an aircraft if we believed it was not safe."
British Airline Pilots' Association said members were doing nothing wrong.
Head of Flight Safety Carolyn Evans said: "Planes are allowed to fly with certain minor defects and pilots make their report at the end of their operations for the day. For any major faults, the aircraft is grounded straight away."