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Posts Tagged ‘Southwest and the FAA’

I’ve been watching the Southwest Airlines inspections controversy unfold over the past week without much comment (except for one post), trying to make sense of what’s happening. There are some big red flags in the way the FAA has handled this case.

Here’s what’s happened so far:

  • On March 15, 2007, Southwest notified the FAA that it had failed to conduct one routine inspection procedure on forty-six of its older Boeing 737 models (from the “Classic” series). These tests look for cracks in the fuselage and are mandated by the FAA due to the age and particular characteristics of this aircraft.
  • Southwest claims that the FAA approved a plan to inspect the planes while keeping them in operation over the next ten days. The FAA denies this.
  • Southwest continued to fly these planes between March 15 and March 23, when the inspections were completed. Southwest’s inspections revealed that six jets had cracks. They were repaired and returned to service.
  • Southwest considered the matter closed by April 2007.
  • On March 6, 2008, the FAA announced that it had proposed a $10.2M penalty against Southwest for “deliberately” operating the forty-six aircraft between March 15 and March 23.
  • Southwest claimed the FAA had approved its inspection plan, denied that it ever operated unsafe aircraft, and announced an internal investigation.
  • On March 11, Southwest grounded thirty-eight aircraft for inspection and found and repaired cracks on four of them.

Here’s what I make of this: (more…)

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The FAA has filed an action for a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines on account of operating aircraft without conducting a particular routine inspection on them. Here’s the story: For some unstated reason, Southwest failed to conduct “mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking” on forty-six Boeing 737 Classic-series aircraft from June 2006 to March 2007. Southwest notified the FAA of its lapse on March 15, 2007, and according to the airline, “The FAA approved our actions and considered the matter closed as of April 2007.” Apparently not. According to the FAA, “after Southwest Airlines discovered that it had failed to accomplish the required repetitive inspections, between March 15, 2007 and March 23, 2007, it continued to operate those same 46 airplanes on an additional 1,451 flights. The amount of the civil penalty reflects the serious nature of those deliberate violations.” Southwest is not denying that it operated these flights, and according to a statement from Boeing, “Southwest Airlines contacted Boeing for verification of its technical opinion that the continued operation of SWA’s Classic 737s, for up to 10 days until the airplanes could be reinspected, did not pose a safety of flight issue.” Boeing did not believe the safety of Southwest’s fleet was ever compromised. So, to recap: Southwest thought that the FAA had approved operating the aircraft between discovering the lack of testing and the conclusion of testing, and the FAA says it never approved such a plan.

At the heart of this issue, as best I can see it, is the phrase “deliberate violations.” What did Southwest think constituted FAA approval? We need to wait and see how Southwest officially responds to the FAA’s action to learn more. I’ve queried Southwest, and if I hear more details, I’ll post them. This is a very serious issue. Some observers (including the usual suspects in Congress) are jumping to conclusions, but I think we need to wait and see what else Southwest has to say.

FAA accuses Southwest of ‘deliberate violations,’ proposes $10.2 million fine [ATW Daily News]
We Take Safety Seriously [Nuts about Southwest]

Photo credit: Flickr user Cubbie_n_Vegas. Used through a Creative Commons license

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