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AA hiding acft in desert? FAA thinks so!


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AA hiding acft in desert? FAA thinks so!

Old 09-03-2009, 10:32 PM
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Default AA hiding acft in desert? FAA thinks so!

From the Wall Street Journal ....

American Faces Escalating Dispute With FAA
Agency Suspects That Plane Was Retired to Hide It From Government Inspectors; Handling of Repairs Is Probed


By ANDY PASZTOR

American Airlines faces an escalating dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration over allegedly improper repairs to at least 16 aircraft.

FAA officials suspect that one of those planes was abruptly retired to get it out of sight of government inspectors, according to people familiar with the details.

The probe, which began several months ago, has raised red flags at the FAA about the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier's willingness to properly disclose potential safety problems, these people said. It follows a string of clashes between the FAA and American, a unit of AMR Corp., over maintenance issues ranging from faulty emergency slides to engine parts with the wrong coatings. Those enforcement cases are continuing.

The latest case is viewed as particularly serious because some FAA inspectors believe it's likely the airline chose to mothball one plane suddenly as part of an effort to hide the extent of suspected defects. The plane was ferried to the New Mexico desert in March for storage, according to people familiar with the probe and company documents, which have been reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

About three weeks earlier, American's engineering paperwork showed the plane was slated to undergo repairs that would let it return to service. But American didn't explicitly tell the FAA of its change in plans, these people said, and agency officials didn't learn about the issue until after the plane was retired, prompting the ongoing flap with the agency.

FAA press officials confirmed that the investigation into the repairs is continuing, but declined to provide details. The probe could result in millions of dollars in proposed fines or penalties.

American spokesman Tim Wagner said "the FAA has provided American the opportunity to respond to its investigation, and we are in the process of doing so." He declined to elaborate, adding "we believe conversations outside of that process are inconsistent with FAA regulations."

Without commenting on specifics of the retired plane, Mr. Wagner said allegations of impropriety "misrepresent the facts," adding that the FAA "has complete access to retired airplanes—and it exercises that access frequently." According to Mr. Wagner, "all airlines have the authority to make decisions regarding the retirement of individual aircraft based on economic and competitive factors."

The FAA's probe focuses on allegations that incorrect fasteners, improperly drilled holes, related poor workmanship and other maintenance lapses afflict a portion of American's aging fleet of MD-80 series jets, which the carrier is gradually replacing with more fuel-efficient planes.

According to preliminary findings of FAA inspectors, at least 16 of the twin-engine planes were operated for months, and sometimes years, with potentially substandard repairs to cracks around their rear pressure bulkheads, key structural parts that can cause rapid cabin decompression if they rupture. American is in the process of responding to a formal FAA "letter of investigation" spelling out the allegations.

An investigator from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also has begun looking into the MD-80 bulkhead issue.

American's situation recalls Southwest Airline Co.'s in the spring of 2008 when lawmakers revealed that a year earlier Southwest knowingly continued to carry passengers on 46 aircraft without performing essential safety inspections. Southwest subsequently said it got approval to do so from local FAA officials.

In American's case, the carrier pulled the 16 planes from service once it realized repairs were needed. But some FAA officials fault it for waiting too long and then hurriedly retiring a plane already under FAA scrutiny.

After flying the affected planes in early February into its Dallas and Tulsa, Okla., maintenance facilities, American told the FAA that it planned to retire a handful of them. The airline then listed 11 remaining MD-80s slated for permanent repairs in Tulsa, spelling out the instructions on an internal work order dated Feb. 12. The plane identified as #279 was on that list.

But by the time FAA inspectors were on hand to assess the condition of the planes and review repair plans, #279 had dropped off the repair list, according to people familiar with the details. Engineering orders on Feb. 28 and March 2 laid out in detail the work to be done on the rest of the jets, but didn't mention #279.

After the FAA learned of the fate of aircraft #279, one agency inspector went to Roswell, N.M., specifically to take photos of the fuselage and sections around the rear pressure bulkhead, said people familiar with the matter. Several other FAA inspectors have made various trips in recent month to examine different parts of American's retired MD-80 planes.

Another American engineering document, dated Feb. 27, listed certain damage and non-compliant repair work, or "discrepancies," found on plane #279. The employees who filled out the form concluded that the problems, including "several gouges on fuselage lap joints," made the plane unsuitable to carry passengers but were "acceptable for the ferry flight to the desert." The same document, though, emphasized that repairs such as splicing in new aluminum skin-- an expensive and big job -- would have to be completed "in order for the aircraft to return to revenue service" carrying passengers.

According to people familiar with the details, American's computerized maintenance system doesn't indicate a so-called "bill of work" was ever created to authorize mechanics to begin permanent repairs to aircraft #279. American declined to comment.

American has had its share of run-ins with the FAA in the last 17 months. In April 2008 the FAA forced the carrier to temporarily ground its MD-80 fleet – canceling thousands of flights over a few days – to ensure that certain wiring was correctly routed around landing gears. American faces a potentially large fine as a result.

In early 2009, a maintenance slip-up damaged some emergency evacuation slides packed in the tail cones of American's MD-80 jets, prompting the carrier to inspect and properly reinstall slides.

Around the same time, FAA inspectors were threatening to force American to ground a large portion of its Boeing 777 fleet because mechanics had failed to use the correct sealant to protect certain engine parts from heat damage, according to agency officials and others familiar with the matter. At the last minute, American received regulatory approval for use of the alternate sealant on thrust reversers, devices that deploy after landing to slow down aircraft. There was no publicity, and American's long-range 777 fleet continued flying.

At the end of July, FAA officials began investigating whether American promptly informed them about potential safety problems stemming from scratches and other damage on some Boeing 737 jets, caused by contact with certain passenger bridges, or jetways.
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Old 09-04-2009, 03:30 AM
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In the mean time, the Feds turn a blind eye to that other Texas airline. The hypocrisy is amazing...
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Old 09-04-2009, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Doug Masters
In the mean time, the Feds turn a blind eye to that other Texas airline. The hypocrisy is amazing...
Actually there is an investigation underway as we speak at Southwest for using bogus parts in addition to the high-profile one that had groundings and a massive record fine last year.
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Old 09-04-2009, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Doug Masters
In the mean time, the Feds turn a blind eye to that other Texas airline. The hypocrisy is amazing...

Either you are joking, or you have been living in a cave for the past 2 years.

(disclosure: I do not work for SWA.)
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Old 09-04-2009, 10:15 AM
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It's all about what SWA has been doing behind the scenes to keep the FAA happy. I'm guessing fully paid for golf tournaments, etc. for the Feds.

I know they do this sort of thing for ATC... why not the FAA and other private and government entities. They're just keeping the wheels greased.
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Old 09-04-2009, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Homa
It's all about what SWA has been doing behind the scenes to keep the FAA happy. I'm guessing fully paid for golf tournaments, etc. for the Feds.

I know they do this sort of thing for ATC... why not the FAA and other private and government entities. They're just keeping the wheels greased.
That's a pretty serious accusation there Homa.

I can't comment on ATC as I don't know much of anything about them.

That said, paying for anything -like you suggest- for any member/employee of the FAA would be a far greater offense than the unapproved parts issue, if it was done in an effort to seek some grace. It would also get the recipient of the gratuity (if you will) in some serious trouble.

No, I don't work for the FAA, but I am quite familiar with this policy.

It's a matter of ethics, and if you actually have proof of what you suggest, then you should report it officially.

http://www.oig.dot.gov/Hotline
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Old 09-04-2009, 05:26 PM
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"Mayday aircraft standby.Go ahead Southwest with your request."

*Cough*
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Old 09-04-2009, 05:41 PM
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You guys are hilarious.
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