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Southwest Grounds 115 Aircraft Over Weight Issues

Southwest Airlines has taken 115 Boeing 737-800 airframes temporarily out of service, over weight and balance data issues sent to dispatchers. The 75-pound weight difference was enough to create an inconvenience for the airline, but they expect it to have a “minimal” impact on operations.

Southwest Airlines says they were forced to ground a number of their Boeing 737-800 fleet, after there was a discrepancy between the weight and balance of aircraft. The Dallas Morning News reports the airline took 115 aircraft out of service, down from what was estimated to be 130 airplanes with issues.

75-Pound Discrepancy Enough to Ground Aircraft

The airline told the newspaper that the difference in weight and balance between the aircraft and dispatch teams was 75 pounds. Although it might seem minor, the difference was enough to ground all the airframes until the problem could be sorted.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have temporarily ceased flying the respective aircraft to enter the correct weights of the aircraft into the system and reset the program,” a spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News. “In the meantime, this will cause some delays and/or cancellations; however, we do anticipate the impact to our operation to be minimal.”

Under federal law, aircraft with 20 or more seats or a maximum payload of 6,000 pounds or more must be weighed every three years. In addition, pilots in command of the aircraft are expected to comply with operating limits published in the Airplane Flight Manual. Any discrepancy in weight could affect the aircraft balance and center of gravity, along with the fuel calculations for successful operations.

The airline said they were able to bring back “a couple dozen” aircraft into service by Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, and are working to get the rest online. There’s no timetable for when Southwest could get the affected airframes back into the regular fleet.

Second Time Southwest is Accused of Weight and Balance Issues in 2020

This incident marks the second time Southwest Airlines has stood accused of having weight and balance issues with their aircraft. In January 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration sought a $3.92 million penalty against the Dallas-based airline for allegedly operating 44 aircraft with incorrect weight and balance data. Southwest claims the issues were self-reported and resolved.

WillTravel4Food September 22, 2020

While a 75 lbs. discrepancy might have limited impact on W&B and CG calculations, there is a regulatory requirement for their accuracy. Upon discovery of the flawed data, they are obligated to ground the affected planes until the data has been corrected. A good example of why this is important, if the error resulted in under-weighing the fully loaded plane then the amount of fuel loaded onto the plane could result in the plane landing with less than the legally required minimum fuel onboard. Aside from that, there is an operating cost consideration. Moving excess fuel from one place to another costs them money. Across an airline's network over the course of a year could cost in the low seven figures ($1.0M or more). A good example of this is the gone but not forgotten SkyMall catalog. It went the way of the buggy whip when the cost to transport exceeded its generated revenue.

DeltaFlyer123 September 19, 2020

When I took my first ever flight, in 1957, it was a chartered DC-4 (actually, a C-54) packed with 68 pax from Vienna to Moncton NB, with refueling stops at Prestwick and Keflavik. All the passengers with their baggage (including checked and carry-on), were individually weighed prior to boarding, and the weights recorded by hand on a clipboard by one of the pilots. I recall standing on the scale with my suitcase, then my mother, etc., until all 68 of us were weighed in. The longest stretch was from Keflavik to Moncton, 11 hours, but there was opportunity to refuel in Newfoundland, if needed, but apparently wasn’t necessary. The headwind must not have been too excessive.