FAA investigating unsafe planes used by Southwset.
The word “ValuJet” immediately comes to my mind…
They look like they’re going to fry for this one. Even if they don’t get hammered by the regulators, the customers will flee…
A press release from Southwest:
Southwest Airlines Responds to Congressman Oberstar’s Recent News Conference
DALLAS, March 7 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ – We share Congressman James Oberstar’s feelings about the importance of a strong commitment to Safety. From its inception, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) has maintained a rigorous Culture of Safety-and has maintained that same dedication for more than 37 years. It is and always has been the airline’s number one priority to ensure the Safety of every Southwest Customer and Employee. For example, the Airworthiness Directive referenced in the FAA Letter of Penalty involves skin inspections that were based on a plan developed right here at Southwest.
“We’ve got a 37-year history of very safe operations, one of the safest operations in the world, and we’re safer today than we’ve ever been,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.
We also want to ensure you that Southwest Airlines is and has always been 100 percent compliant with the Rudder Airworthiness Directive (AD) referenced by Congressman Oberstar. The only rudder issue raised with us was never a violation of any FAA Airworthiness Directive. What was missed by Southwest was the accomplishment of a specific Boeing-required task pertaining to the Standby Rudder Power Control Unit (PCU), which has nothing to do with the Airworthiness Directive that Congressman Oberstar referenced. The Standby Rudder PCU is redundant; meaning, it is not powered on the vast majority of flights. To date, Southwest has performed the PCU check at issue over 200 times with zero failures.
The Airworthiness Directive referenced in the FAA Letter of Penalty involves one of many skin inspections on our aircraft and was never a safety of flight issue. Southwest actually performed the inspection, but missed inspecting an area of .006 of the total inspection area. Southwest helped develop the program in 1999, before it became an FAA directive. Boeing relied on Southwest’s program to develop the Service Bulletin that led to the eventual Airworthiness Directive in question. Southwest has a long history of working with Boeing, consistently maintaining a leadership role in developing maintenance programs for the Boeing 737 aircraft. Southwest is the largest Boeing 737 operator in the World.
My personal feeling is that this is bogus.
Uhhyeah - sounds like BS to me…
In other words… “We helped Boeing develop a program, but then we can’t seem to complete the inspections that we expected everyone else to complete as part of the AD!”
Also from Southwest:
Gregory A. Feith: (Former NTSB Investigator in Charge Offers Safety of Flight Assessment on Behalf of Southwest Airline)
I was requested by Southwest Airlines (SWA) to review and assess the potential safety of flight risk that could have resulted from the continued in-service operation of 46 of their Classic 737 airplanes in March 2007 as they progressively inspected a small area (under 0.6%) of the fuselage skin as required by FAA Airworthiness Directive 2004-18-06. The assessment involved the review of technical documents associated with both mandatory and non-mandatory inspections, pertinent service/maintenance history for the 46 airplanes, a technical briefing by the Southwest Airlines Engineering Department and technical data/analysis provided by Boeing (the airplane manufacturer) related to structural integrity of fuselage skin cracks that were found on five of the 46 SWA airplanes. The scope of the assessment was confined to the safety of flight issues only.
Based on the information I have reviewed, it is apparent that on March 15, 2007, SWA initiated re-inspection of the affected airplanes to accomplish the inadvertently missed portion of FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD) 2004-18-06. A review of the historical information that led to the issuance of the AD indicates that a progressive inspection for fuselage skin cracking was initially distributed to operators in the form of a “non-mandatory” Service Bulletin (SB) that provided “risk mitigation” actions that operators were encouraged to incorporate into their maintenance program. This Service Bulletin was based, in large part, on an inspection program developed by Southwest Airlines. The issuance of the AD was a continued effort to ensure that cracks in the fuselage skin on the Boeing 737 airplanes were identified and mitigated well before they could pose a safety of flight issue. It is evident from the 4500 hour initial inspection requirement (regardless of aircraft age (i.e. flight cycles)) that the FAA did not regard the skin cracking as an “immediate threat” to the safety of flight of the airplane. Thus, the FAA Airworthiness Directive permitted aircraft to remain in-service for approximately 1 1/2 years, until a normally scheduled heavy maintenance visit occurred, before the first inspection was required.
In addition, it is evident from the analysis and testing data developed by Boeing that cracks up to 6 inches in the fuselage skin do not compromise the structural integrity or pose a safety of flight issue. This is further supported by the design of the fuselage structure which incorporates “internal reinforcing doublers in the skin assembly” and “tearstraps,” both of which are intended to provide strength, and slow or abate the growth rate of a crack under normal operating aerodynamic loads.
Based on the available data and information reviewed, it is apparent that there was no risk to the flying public in March 2007 while Southwest Airlines performed their program to re-inspect the small area of aircraft fuselages identified in the AD inspection that was inadvertently missed.
Even had I known about their “trouble” for the past 30 months ago, I would, without hesitation, have flown Southwest and encouraged others to use them when possible, including my 94+ years old grandmothers.
The FAA has a tendency, in my opinion, to go overboard at times. This is good publicity for them: “We are here watching out for the flying public. Oh, and can we get some more money?” Just an opinion, as I said.
But you are a SWA shill, right?
There’s no need to quote the entire posting all the time!
Yes, I think SWA is a great airline. They, like any other business, can have problems.
Based on what I have read, I feel that SWA doesn’t deserve such a large fine. In fact, if what they did was so bad, why didn’t the FAA charge them the full $36 million that could have been charged instead of less than half of that amount? I think it’s because the FAA doesn’t have that strong of a case.
I don’t think the value of the fine will change the fact on whether the work was done or not.
Either they have a case or not, 10 mil, 36 mil isn’t going to change the strength of the case.
Either way, after all is settled, guess who will pay that fine in the long run. Does the word passenger come to mind?
SWA had an obligation to do the inspections in a timely manner and they did not do that. Hence the fine and bad publicity. The way people love this airline I would expect this to be just a blip on the radar. I myself prefer to fly different airlines, but thats what’s nice about a free choice system.
Additionally, if a fine is paid, it will probably be 5 million. I’ve notice in many fines given by the Department of Transportation (The FAA is part of the DOT), half of the fine is paid with the other half forgiven if they don’t do it again.
I don’t know if this does apply to the FAA; I just noticed it when the DOT has brought fines against airlines for false advertising, etc.
I’ll just keep jumping on whatever plane gets me where I want to go in the most efficient manner. SW? Sure. Airtran? Absolutely. Skybus? Saves me two hours on my trips to Maine…heck yeah! I love whichever one has a direct flight:)
I think the fine will be nominally $100-$200M, of which they will end up paying about $50M.
They won’t get off easy on this one, but it won’t materially affect their operations. In fact it gives them a chance to sell some of their B737-7’s on order that they don’t really need or pulling ahead the sale of some B733’s under the auspices of getting cash to pay the fine without explicitly signaling to the market that they’re running out of places to put them.
Where do you get $100 to 200 million? The maximum fine is $36 million.
They are looking for more 737-700’s. That’s one reason why they recently purchased a Ford 737-700. If anything, the 737-300’s would be used to help finance the 700’s.
I get the idea that many people here think it’s a done deal. It’s not. The fine has not been set in stone yet. Southwest can still appeal.
Here are a couple facts to chew on… as of 12/31/2007
Southwest Airlines Co.
Cash $2.213 Billion
Short term investments $1.635 Billion
Other cash assets $600 Million
Total Assets $16.8 Billion +
Liabilities $9.8 Billion
**Equity $7 Billion
SWA Market Cap as of today $9 Billion **
Jet Blue MktCap = $1Billion +
UAL + Delta + AMR = ~$9 Billion
*Source: SWA Balance Sheet
Wazzu90 summary… SWA not hurt!
House panel releases report that states Southwest, agency falsified safety records
01:49 PM CDT on Tuesday, March 11, 2008
By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON Officials for Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration “falsified the report” that said the airline had come into compliance with rules for crucial safety inspections for jets, according to records released by a U.S. House committee.
That allegation appears in more than 90 pages of documents that suggest a culture of cronyism compromised the FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines in Dallas. Two whistle-blowers said FAA supervisors and colleagues undermined their efforts to get Southwest to comply with federal directives.
The FAA has fined Southwest $10.2 million for continuing to fly more than three dozen jets that were 30 months late for safety inspections and should have been grounded until the work was done. But the agency hasn’t fired any employees over the incident, which has embarrassed the FAA and called into question its partnership approach to regulating airlines.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters suggested Monday that more disciplinary actions could be handed down.
“If any inspector failed in his or her responsibilities to the traveling public, they will be dealt with swiftly and severely,” Ms. Peters told a conference in Washington. “There is simply no margin for error when it comes to the safety of our aviation system.”
A Southwest spokeswoman said the carrier hasn’t reviewed the specifics of the whistle-blower complaints and couldn’t comment on the allegations.
Southwest first reported its failure to perform fuselage inspections on March 15, 2007. In a report approved by an FAA official in Irving, the airline said it had come into compliance meaning it had stopped flying jets that required inspections.
In fact, the airline continued to fly most of the jets for another eight days.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistle-blower complaints, reported allegations in December that Southwest’s regulatory official “falsely stated” and an FAA supervisor “falsely accepted” the airline’s statement.
“For them to indicate in a report that the carrier had grounded their airplanes until they finished their inspections, only for someone else to find out that they continued to fly, is a very serious situation,” said Linda Goodrich, regional vice president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the union representing safety inspectors.
**Failure to confirm **
Peggy Gilligan, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, said the FAA supervisor failed to confirm that Southwest had grounded the jets, but the agency hasn’t determined whether he knowingly misled anyone.
“All that is under review,” Ms. Gilligan said.
The FAA supervisor who approved the form, Douglas T. Gawadzinski, later told FAA investigators that “there was never a concern with the airworthiness of the aircraft,” according to an April 18 memo from FAA investigators.
Those investigators concluded that Mr. Gawadzinski’s statement was absurd because six of the jets were found to have cracks some as long as 3.5 inches. But they couldn’t conclude that Mr. Gawadzinski allowed Southwest’s jets to keep flying to “provide relief to schedule the inspections at the airline’s convenience,” according to the memo.
Mr. Gawadzinski, of North Richland Hills, declined to comment. The FAA has transferred him from the office overseeing Southwest Airlines.
According to one of the whistle-blowers, Mr. Gawadzinski stopped being strict with Southwest after a former FAA colleague, Paul Comeau, joined the airline. Previously, the whistle-blower said, the FAA had forced jets needing inspections to stop flying.
**‘Cozy relationship’ **
“His position directly interfaces with our office on a daily basis in regard to regulatory compliance issues,” the whistle-blower, C. Bobby Boutris, wrote. “It is obvious that the cozy relationship between Gawadzinski and Comeau played a contributing factor … and allowed 47 aircraft to fly paying passengers with a known unsafe condition.”
Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has largely supported the inspectors’ claims.
Mr. Oberstar, D-Minn., will chair a congressional hearing about the FAA’s partnership approach to oversight in early April.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D- Dallas, said Monday that she’s concerned the FAA “has been pretty derelict to not follow their guidelines.” Southwest hasn’t directly contacted her, although the airline has spoken with her staff, Ms. Johnson said.
“Anytime that the relationship [between carrier and regulator] is such that it could subject passengers to unsafe conditions, it’s time for something to be done about it,” said Ms. Johnson, who chairs one of the committee’s sub-panels.
At a news conference Friday, Mr. Oberstar said he might propose a law prohibiting FAA inspectors from going to work for the airlines for a year or two. He also called for inspectors to be rotated between assignments “as a countermeasure against developing a cozy relationship” with airline employees.
Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said last week that the self-reporting system is beneficial because it encourages carriers to disclose problems without fearing punishment.
“You need to have an environment where you can be honest and not have to fear retaliation or intimidation,” Mr. Kelly said. “If errors are suppressed by fear, that is a far, far worse result in the safety environment.”
The records unveiled Monday suggest that other inspectors’ attempts to investigate Southwest were compromised.
An internal investigation into the way Mr. Gawadzinski handled Southwest’s violations was leaked to the airline, according to a second inspector who spoke with congressional investigators.
Mr. Boutris was removed from his oversight position after an anonymous complaint was made to Southwest about him; Mr. Boutris told investigators that the inquiry lasted seven months and resulted in no discipline.
Ms. Goodrich said Mr. Oberstar’s investigation, as well as an earlier investigation into similar problems at Northwest Airlines, have caused more inspectors to come forward with claims that supervisors have quashed or limited their investigations.
“We have had people literally come out of the woodwork saying I have a similar issue,” said Ms. Goodrich. “I think we are going to be hearing other people coming forward.”
I thought it was a very crazy story i mean when the FAA is the boss of the industry you have to follow there command.