America”s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated an action to fine Southwest Airlines $10.2m (”5m) for failing to perform mandatory inspections on 46 of its aircraft ” and on six of them it subsequently found fuselage damage.
From 18 June 2006 to 14 March 2007, the FAA alleges that Southwest operated the Boeing 737s on 59,791 flights while failing to check the aircraft fuselages for fatigue cracking at the required regular intervals. It then allegedly continued to operate them on a further 1,451 flights despite having realised it had failed to comply with the safety rules.
”The FAA is taking action against Southwest Airlines for a failing to follow rules that are designed to protect passengers and crew,” said FAA associate administrator for aviation safety, Nicholas A Sabatini. ”We expect the airline industry to fully comply with all FAA directives and take corrective action.”
Southwest said it was ”surprised” to receive the notification by the FAA as it had reported the problem at the time, conferred with the Administration on how to fix it, and then carried that out.
It also referred to the checks as ”one of many routine, redundant, and overlapping inspections.”
The carrier”s CEO Gary Kelly said: ”I”ve ordered an investigation as to exactly what happened with this event. It occurred in March of 2007. These aircraft are inspected inch by inch, and in this particular incident over 99% of the inspections were completed according to the documentation. When we discovered the error, we went back and re-inspected those aircraft, and we did that in a matter of ten days.
”There were 46 aircraft that needed to be re-inspected. We found cracks on roughly half a dozen of those. They were repaired properly. With respect to those cracks ” the expert ” the Boeing Company said that at no time were those cracks unsafe. Cracks do occur, and that”s why we do inspections, roughly every year and a half.
”Our interpretation of the guidance that we got from the FAA at the time was that we were in compliance with all laws and regulations. I think the FAA has a different view of that today. That”s something we”re investigating. We are disappointed, obviously, with the fine. It is unprecedented and we think it is unfair.”
The FAA statement said the airline has 30 days from receipt of its civil penalty letter to respond.