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DOT: Southwest Flew Millions on Planes With Unconfirmed Maintenance Records

DOT: Southwest Flew Millions on Planes With Unconfirmed Maintenance Records
Taylor Rains

Southwest Airlines is in the spotlight again, and not for its funny flight attendants or cool liveries. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General has drafted a report outlining instances in which Southwest failed to prioritize safety and highlighted the FAA’s lack of enforcement action. The airline is facing scrutiny over unconfirmed maintenance records on some of its aircraft, and FAA officials who oversee Southwest are getting backlash for less than thorough investigations into the carrier’s safety systems.

Unconfirmed Maintenance Records

Last year, it was revealed that 88 Southwest aircraft that had been purchased from foreign airlines had unreliable maintenance records. The carrier explained the issue as “a small number of repairs that had been performed but not properly classified,” however, it turned out to be over 350 undocumented repairs completed by contractors.

The DOT audit found the initial inspection and signoff of 71 of the 88 aircraft took a single day – a process that should take three to four weeks. After the finding, Southwest was given a July 2020 deadline to complete full inspections of the aircraft, but the carrier was slow in their checks, with only 39 aircraft completed by late 2019.

The House Transportation Committee was not convinced the airline was prioritizing safety, so they made an agreement with Southwest that all 88 aircraft, which had already been integrated into the fleet, would undergo a full audit of maintenance records by January 31, 2020. That deadline is here, and Southwest claims that 75 aircraft have been completed and have found they are “very low risk, well within acceptable parameters.”

Failed FAA Oversight

The government report revealed new information on a landing event at Bradley International Airport. The incident involved an aircraft slamming both wingtips on a runway while attempting to land in gusty winds. According to the report, the FAA failed to properly investigate the event, which involved the pilots descending into rough turbulence, wind shear, and winds stronger than they were trained to handle.

The airline addressed the event by adjusting landing calculations rather than questioning the pilots’ decision-making, something that Southwest management determined to be a non-issue. Because of the outcome of the investigation, the DOT audit expressed concerns over the FAA’s inability to determine if Southwest’s safest management system “was effective in achieving the highest possible degree of safety.”

Furthermore, the report revealed that FAA officials in the Dallas area regularly allow Southwest “to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns,” and failed to address shortcomings and gaps in the airline’s safety systems. The report also disclosed that 46 FAA officials “raised concerns about the culture at Southwest.” The report stated, “It is clear that the Agency is not yet effectively navigating the balance between industry collaboration and managing safety risks at the carrier.”

Southwest said in response to the report, “We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the OIG and will continue to communicate any concerns directly with its office. Our friends, our families board our aircraft and not a single one of us would put anything above their safety.”

View Comments (4)

4 Comments

  1. Tack

    January 30, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    I spent 36 with AS in a safety and compliance roll and the two things that myself, and my peers at not only AS but other carriers always were concerned about was how WN always played fast and loose with its safety culture and how, by the grace of god, they’ve been able to avoid a major accident. Now retired and having to buy tickets and travel for my business, neither I or my family fly them. Call it my belief in the law of averages.

  2. Boggie Dog

    January 31, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    FAA should hold all air carriers operating in the U.S. to the most strict terms of all regulations. Maybe its time to have a change of leadership at the FFA who will in the future put travelers first over any airline and a change at the airlines where it seems executive bonuses are more important than customer safety.

    Things need to change!

  3. 777 global mile hound

    February 1, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Underneath is the bottom line profits over peoples safety.
    You think history would have taught the industry something after all these years
    It’s frightening when both Airbus and Boeing can have such flaws and onboard safety software is now an up-sell like upgrading cabins or add on luggage fees.
    Safety isn’t negotiable we all pay in the end with the painful loss of life and costly lawsuits and reputations
    A spill of a pilots coffee cup into the cockpit console where they sit can and did shut down the engines on an A350 as reported.
    The Boeing 737 Max,Airline another shocking example of incompetence at its worst
    .Lax maintenance at many airlines and especially Southwest
    That poor woman flying Southwest should have never been sucked out of her seat and gone through the window

    Now a days throw in the Corona Virus and American Airlines 500k one way per person award tickets that were previously 80k in business class.It makes you want to stay home and think about the good old days when all you have to worry about was a hijacker and award availability on sanely priced award tickets and generous FF programs making you want to fly What a world we live in.I pray a new administration makes safety a top priority for the traveling public and improves the quality and cost of health care and protects Medicare for those that earned it and need it in retirement
    Get out there and vote all

  4. jjmoore

    February 2, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    The FAA should ground all of the planes that are of concern until SWA complies. That will put a dent in their revenues and teach them a lesson.

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