Wings Magazine

FAA wants American airlines to pay penalty

August 30, 2010, Dallas, Tx. - U.S. officials are seeking a record penalty of US$24.2 million against American Airlines over maintenance lapses that
 aused thousands of cancelled flights in 2008.

August 30, 2010  By The Associated Press

American said the civil penalty was unwarranted and it would appeal.

The dispute dates to 2008, when American had to cancel more than 3,000 flights — inconveniencing 350,000 passengers — until wiring could be fixed to the satisfaction of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA said Thursday that the improper harnessing of wires on American"s McDonnell Douglas MD-80-series jets — about half its fleet at the time — could have led to fires and even fuel-tank explosions. It said American flew more than 14,000 flights with planes that didn"t meet the wiring requirements.

American has claimed all along that the FAA"s concerns were
overblown, and that passenger safety was never jeopardized.


"These events happened more than two years ago, and we believe
this action is unwarranted," said American spokesman Tim Smith. "We are confident we have a strong case and the facts will bear
this out."

Airlines routinely challenge FAA penalties or negotiate to reduce

American officials have said the current dispute is over a minor
matter of leaving too much space between sleeves that hold bundles
of wire together.

The FAA imposed the wiring rule after three operators reported
electrical shorting in wires looped through the MD-80"s wheel wells.
The rules required mechanics to follow a 28-step process for
clamping and securing wires to prevent them from rubbing together.

A large safety penalty would add to American"s financial and
image problems. Parent AMR Corp. was the only major U.S. airline
company to lose money in the second quarter, and it has lost more
than $4 billion since the start of 2008 as it struggled against high
fuel costs and a slump in travel.

American is also beset by labour issues, with unions representing
mechanics and flight attendants talking about going on strike, and
pilots openly criticizing the company.

The new penalty stems from early 2008, when FAA inspectors said
they spotted problems with the wiring on two MD-80 planes. The FAA
says American failed to correctly fix the problem, and inspectors
found improper work on most of the planes they checked during
follow-up visits to American maintenance facilities.
The airline ended up grounding its entire fleet of MD-80s for
several days in April 2008 while mechanics worked on the planes.

The FAA said Thursday that American operated 14,278 passenger
flights on 286 planes that didn"t meet the wiring standards.

"We expect operators to perform inspections and conduct regular
and required maintenance in order to prevent safety issues," said
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose department includes the
FAA. "There can be no compromises when it comes to safety."

American has since been retiring some of the gas-guzzling MD-80
planes and replacing them with more fuel-efficient ones. The FAA
said safety officials have made progress working with American to
improve the airline"s "maintenance culture."

If upheld, the penalty against American would top the previous
record of $95 million that the FAA levied against Eastern Airlines
in 1987 for delaying required maintenance work. Eastern went out of
business after paying only about $1 million.

As the FAA was focusing on American in 2008, it also proposed a
$10.2 million penalty against Southwest Airlines Co. for operating
about 1,400 flights before inspecting the planes for cracks.
Southwest negotiated that down to $7.5 million.

The actions against American and Southwest came after
whistle-blowers in the FAA and members of Congress criticized the
agency for being too cozy with the airlines.


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