Did Southwest Airlines operate an aging aircraft known to have a temporary repair on a cargo door beyond the safety threshold required by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?
The airline says no and any “issues were promptly addressed to the satisfaction of the FAA before the aircraft was returned to service.”
According to the FAA, one of their inspectors found an improperly recorded temporary repair on the aluminum skin of one of Southwest’s airplanes on July 9, 2014. The federal agency announced Monday they are proposing a “$325,000 civil penalty against Southwest Airlines of Dallas, Texas, for allegedly operating a Boeing 737 that was not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.”
The discrepancy was discovered by the FAA inspector while the Boeing 737 was in a maintenance facility in San Salvador, according to their announcement. The improperly recorded temporary repair was “to an approximately nine-inch crease in the aluminum skin of the jetliner’s rear cargo door as a permanent repair.”
“The inspector discovered that this fuselage damage had first been reported in Southwest Airlines’ maintenance records on May 2, 2002, which is when the airline made the temporary repair,” the FAA announcement stated. “The airline was required to inspect the temporary repair every 4,000 flights and complete a permanent repair within 24,000 flights.”
Conferring with records, the FAA asserts Southwest continued flying the jetliner on 24,831 flights without executing the required periodic inspections a temporary repair. The FAA also contends that the plane flew on 4,831 flights “beyond the flight threshold by which it was required to have performed the permanent repair. The final repair was completed on July 24, 2014.”
When first notified about the proposed penalty being suggested by the FAA on July 9th date, Southwest Airlines responded that they had already found the problem and that all “issues were promptly addressed to the satisfaction of the FAA before the aircraft was returned to service.”
“There is no impact to any other aircraft in our fleet,” said spokesman Brad Hawkins in a Southwest Airlines statement. “Safety is the top priority at Southwest, and we always strive for full compliance with established and approved maintenance processes and procedures.”
Southwest has asked to meet with FAA officials to discuss their maintenance program and the proposed penalty. When a Boeing 737 experienced loss of pressure on a May 2013 flight, the FAA said Southwest did not inspect the aircraft until after 123 more flights were completed. The agency also alleges that Southwest did not accurately record air conditioning repairs on a Boeing 717 while continuing with more flights.
Because of those two 213 instances, in April 2015, the FAA proposed $328,550 in fines against Southwest.
The U.S. Department of Justice is preparing court action against Southwest, after a settlement could not be reached regarding a $12 million fine the FAA charged Southwest with in July 2014. The FAA charges Southwest did not comply with safety regulations regarding other Boeing 737 repairs.