F.A.A. Fines Southwest Air in Inspections
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: March 7, 2008
WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a record penalty, $10.2 million, against Southwest Airlines on Thursday because, it said, the carrier had misled officials about whether it kept flying older Boeing 737 planes for several days last year after failing to inspect them for cracks in the fuselage.
At least one F.A.A. employee was aware of Southwest’s misrepresentation, an agency spokeswoman, Diane Spitalieri said, and told the airline that it could keep flying the 737s but should inspect them as soon as possible. A supervisor at the F.A.A. who was aware of the arrangement has been removed from that job, the spokeswoman said.
Southwest declared Thursday that it should not be fined because it had the F.A.A.’s concurrence when it continued to fly the incompletely inspected planes.
(concur Show phonetics
verb [I] -rr- FORMAL
1 to agree with someone or have the same opinion as someone else:
The new report concurs with previous findings.
[+ that] The board concurred that the editor should have full control over editorial matters.
[+ speech] "I think you're absolutely right, " concurred Chris.
2 If two or more events concur, they happen at the same time.
concurrence Show phonetics
noun [U] FORMAL
when people, things or events concur 此處有類似"背書"之意 即主管單位同意其繼飛)
The inspector general of the Transportation Department is investigating the F.A.A.’s handling of the episode at the request of the chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Ms. Spitalieri said that four of the planes turned out to have four-inch cracks, big enough to require repairs, though no problems occurred when they were in use.
“They knowingly flew those aircraft,” she said. “They knew they shouldn’t be.”
(knowingly Show phonetics
1 in a way that shows you know about something:
She smiled knowingly at him.
2 If you do something knowingly, you do it with awareness, especially of its likely effect:
I've never knowingly offended him.)
The airline said that it had found “the start of small cracking” on six planes.
According to the F.A.A., Southwest came to it last March 15 and “self-disclosed” that it might have failed to comply with a special inspection of older aircraft required under an F.A.A. order.
On March 19, the airline said it had definitely flown planes for which required inspections were skipped. But then the airline did something worse, according to the F.A.A.
“When you self-disclose, one of the questions is, Has the noncompliance 違法 stopped?” Ms. Spitalieri said. The airline said it had, she related, but in fact Southwest kept flying the planes until March 23.
A spokeswoman for Southwest, Linda Rutherford, acknowledged that when the airline disclosed its error, it checked a box saying it had ceased the violation. But, she said, that was an “administrative error.”
“We continued flying with the concurrence of F.A.A. and the F.A.A.’s approval of our plan to bring ourselves back into compliance,” Ms. Rutherford said.
She added that the airline had inspected “99.4 percent” of the area it was supposed to, but, because of an error in the computer program that tells inspectors what tasks to accomplish, skipped 0.6 percent.
“This was never an issue of a safety-of-flight concern,” she said.
Boeing, the builder of the planes, issued a statement Thursday saying that Southwest had asked it to verify that is was safe to fly the planes for up to 10 days until they could be reinspected.
“Boeing concluded the 10-day compliance plan was technically valid,” the statement said. “In Boeing’s opinion, the safety of the Southwest fleet was not compromised.”
Under an F.A.A. order issued in September 2004, older 737s had to be inspected for fatigue cracks at least once every 4,500 flights, and 46 of Southwest’s planes gradually crossed that threshold. By March 14, they had collectively flown 59,791 flights, the agency said.
Airlines that disclose problems win leniency in penalties for their violations. But between March 15, when Southwest said it might have a problem, and March 23, when it finished the inspections, it used the planes in 1,451 flights, according to the F.A.A.
Ms. Spitalieri said the agency became aware of the misconduct of its own employees through “several routes,” including a call to an internal hot line.
Last month, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate. The inspector general is looking into “the thoroughness of F.A.A.’s investigation of whistle-blower allegations,” according to a notice by the official’s office.
(allegation Show phonetics
noun [C] FORMAL
a statement which has not been proven to be true which says that someone has done something wrong or illegal:主張
Several of her patients have made allegations of professional misconduct about/against her.
[+ that] Allegations that Mr Dwight was receiving money from known criminals have caused a scandal.)
Ms. Spitalieri said a supervisor was aware that someone at the F.A.A. had told the airline that it could keep flying the planes. She said she was not sure how many F.A.A. employees were involved.
Business Week magazine reported in February that the House committee was looking into whether an F.A.A. inspector who had proposed that the planes be taken out of service until they were inspected had been improperly shifted to other duties.
Jeff Bailey contributed reporting from Chicago.