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Old 03-06-2008, 10:27 AM   #10  
Gets Weekends Off
Joined APC: May 2006
Position: B-737 / FO
Posts: 212

From USA Today:

Regulators target Southwest for penalty of at least $3M

DALLAS Federal regulators will seek a penalty of at least $3 million against Southwest Airlines for failing to inspect older planes for cracks.
The airline said Thursday it had complied with regulators' requests and would contest any fine.

The Federal Aviation Administration could officially notify Southwest of actions against it as early as Thursday, said a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the FAA has not announced any action.

The FAA is looking into Southwest's failure to do required inspections on some of its older Boeing 737s.

The planes are covered by an FAA safety directive for inspecting older aircraft for structural soundness. The aim of the program is to find and repair small cracks before they become a safety hazard.

A spokeswoman for Southwest, Beth Harbin, said the airline brought the issue to the FAA's attention and believed it had handled the matter to the agency's satisfaction. Harbin said the airline believed the case was closed last year.

"We brought in 46 airplanes to take another look at them," Harbin said. "These are preventive inspections. On six of the 46 we found the start of some very small cracking. That's the intent of the inspection schedule to find something before it becomes a problem. These are safe planes."

The FAA action was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in Thursday editions.

The person close to the case said Southwest self-reported that it had accidentally missed some inspections. The key, the person said, was that Southwest then continued flying the planes before completing the inspections.

A congressional committee is looking into why the FAA didn't ground the planes when it learned of the missed inspections a year ago.

FAA regulations require that airplanes be grounded if a mandatory inspection has been missed, until the work can be performed.

The person said the FAA could seek a penalty of $25,000 per violation, or $3 million to $36 million, but that it was unlikely the penalty would be in the upper range partly because the agency must consider the company's ability to pay.

Airlines are under heavy financial pressure because of high fuel costs.

The largest civil penalty the FAA has ever imposed was $10 million, and the largest against an airline was $9.5 million about two decades ago against Eastern Airlines.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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