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UnlimitedAkro 03-06-2008 07:43 AM

Southwest Airlines Article from CNN

Southwest Airlines Allowed to fly "Unsafe" planes for months.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- -- Discount air carrier Southwest Airlines flew thousands of passengers on aircraft federal inspectors said were "unsafe" as recently as last March, according to detailed congressional documents obtained by CNN.
Congressional documents show Southwest Airlines flew thousands of passengers on aircraft deemed "unsafe" by federal inspectors.

Documents submitted by FAA inspectors to congressional investigators allege the airline flew at least 117 of its planes in violation of mandatory safety checks. In some cases, the documents say, the planes flew for 30 months past government inspection deadlines that should have grounded the planes until the inspections could be completed.
The planes were "not air worthy," according to congressional air safety investigators.
Calling it "one of the worst safety violations" he has ever seen, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, is expected to call a hearing as soon as possible to ask why the airline put its own passengers in danger.
Southwest Airlines, which carried more passengers in the United States than any other airline last year, declined comment on the allegations.
"We are not doing interviews. We are only preparing for the hearings at this time," said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King.
The documents obtained by CNN also allege that some management officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency responsible for commercial air safety, knew the planes were flying "unsafely" and did nothing about it.
"The result of inspection failures, and enforcement failure, has meant that aircraft have flown unsafe, unairworthy, and at risk of lives," Oberstar told CNN.
He said both FAA managers and the airline may not only have threatened the safety of Southwest passengers, but may also have broken the law.
The documents were prepared by two FAA safety inspectors who have requested whistle-blower status from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is chaired by Oberstar. The two inspectors have been subpoenaed to testify before the committee.
The whistle-blowers say FAA managers knew about the lapse in safety at Southwest, but decided to allow the airline to conduct the safety checks on a slower schedule because taking "aircraft out of service would have disrupted Southwest Airlines' flight schedule."

According to statements made by one of the FAA inspectors seeking whistle-blower status, a manager at the FAA "permitted the operation of these unsafe aircraft in a matter that would provide relief" to the airline, even though paying customers were on board.
The safety inspections ignored or delayed by the airline were mandated after two fatal crashes and one fatal incident, all involving Boeing's 737, the only type of airplane Southwest flies.
In 1994, a U.S. Air Boeing 737 crashed in Pittsburgh killing 132. Three years earlier, a United Airlines Boeing 737 crashed in Colorado Springs, killing 25. Investigators blamed both crashes on problems in the planes' rudder control system, leading the FAA to demand regular checks of the 737's rudder system.
Documents provided to CNN show 70 Southwest jets were allowed to fly past the deadline for the mandatory rudder inspections.
The documents also show 47 more Southwest jets kept flying after missing deadlines for inspections for cracks in the planes' fuselage or "skin."
The long-term, mandatory checks for fuselage cracks were required after the cabin of an Aloha Airlines 737 tore apart in mid-air in 1988, killing a flight attendant. That incident, which opened much of the top of the plane during flight, was attributed to cracks in the plane's fuselage that grew wider as the plane underwent pressure changes during flight.
An FAA inspector at a Southwest Airlines maintenance facility spotted a fuselage crack on of the airline's 737s last year, according to the congressional documents. He notified the airline and then began looking through safety records, discovering dozens of planes that had missed mandatory inspection deadlines.
According to the inspector's statement in congressional documents: "Southwest Airlines at the time of discovery did not take immediate, corrective action as required to address this unsafe condition and continued to fly the affected aircraft with paying passengers."
The documents show Southwest Airlines voluntarily disclosed some of the missed inspections last spring, and Southwest Airlines told the Wall Street Journal it did not expect any civil penalties to be imposed because of the self-disclosure.
But, even after the airline's disclosure, FAA inspectors assert that planes continued to fly, in some cases for more than a week, before inspections were complete. The airline "did not take immediate, corrective action," according to the congressional documents obtained by CNN.
"That is wrong," said Oberstar. "When an aircraft is flying out of compliance with airworthiness directives, it is to be shut down and brought in for maintenance inspection. That's the law."
Southwest Airlines has never had a catastrophic crash. Federal investigators determined a 2005 incident at Midway airport in Chicago that killed one person on the ground was the result of pilot error, as was a 2000 incident at Burbank airport in California that seriously injured 2 passengers.

rickair7777 03-06-2008 07:55 AM

The whistle-blowers were Feds????? :eek:

We all have that perception that SWA gets preferential treatment from ATC...I never would have guessed that FAA Mx was in on the deal too. I hope they got more out of it than a few pizzas :mad:

UnlimitedAkro 03-06-2008 08:45 AM

I re-read the article a few times.... this is pretty serious stuff for Southwest :(

capoetc 03-06-2008 08:53 AM


Originally Posted by UnlimitedAkro (Post 334823)
I re-read the article a few times.... this is pretty serious stuff for Southwest :(

It defintely could be very serious, but I'll abide by the old guideline that says, "Things are almost never as good or as bad as they are initially reported."

ExperimentalAB 03-06-2008 08:59 AM

Took me two reads to figure out it could be potentially horrid for WN...but they'll get through it - they always do.

mjarosz 03-06-2008 09:31 AM

I saw that article and immediately came over here to find out the real story.

reddog25 03-06-2008 09:36 AM


Originally Posted by ExperimentalAB (Post 334841)
Took me two reads to figure out it could be potentially horrid for WN...but they'll get through it - they always do.

Besides, I never thought it was unsafe to fly SWA, just land and taxi:)

reddog25 03-06-2008 09:37 AM


Originally Posted by ExperimentalAB (Post 334841)
Took me two reads to figure out it could be potentially horrid for WN...but they'll get through it - they always do.

I never thought it as unsafe to fly SWA, just land and taxi:)

Lighteningspeed 03-06-2008 09:44 AM


Originally Posted by ExperimentalAB (Post 334841)
Took me two reads to figure out it could be potentially horrid for WN...but they'll get through it - they always do.

There's always the first time for everything and everyone. This article seems serious enough. For some reason it does not surprise me one bit considering, SWA is an extremely cost conscious airline. I've been told SWA jets always ask for the nearest runway for takeoffs, and they do seem to taxi faster than others, though that could be just be my perception.

HuronIP 03-06-2008 10:27 AM

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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