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The FAA Wants $3.92 Million in Fines, But Southwest Objects

The FAA Wants $3.92 Million in Fines, But Southwest Objects
Joe Cortez

The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking nearly $4 million in fines against Southwest Airlines for flying with alleged incorrect weight and balance data. The airline says they discovered the error during a computer transition and are working with the FAA to resolve the situation.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to charge Southwest Airlines $3.92 Million in fines for operating thousands of flights on 44 planes with incorrect weight and balance data, but the airline claims it was all a mistake.


The FAA Accuses Incorrect Weight and Balance Data, Jeopardizing Safety

In their statement, the FAA claims Southwest operated the flights in question between May 1 and Aug. 9, 2018. The 44 aircraft in question accounted for over 21,000 flights with incorrect weight and balance data.

“This weight-related information is used along with other data in determining how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried, as well as where cargo must be located,” the FAA claims. “The FAA alleges that Southwest’s operation of these aircraft was contrary to the airline’s approved weight-and-balance program and FAA-issued operations specifications.”

According to a 2016 FAA weight and balance handbook, the administration reminds pilots that weight and balance calculations are key to “conducting a safe and efficient flight.” Formulas allow pilots to determine how aircraft can be loaded to ensure weight limits and aircraft center of gravity are in the correct range.


Southwest Responds to the Allegations

But Southwest claims that the information was due to a computer transition and at no time was safety in question. In a statement to FlyerTalk, the Dallas-based airline says the issues were self-identified and self-reported to the FAA in July 2018. Their systems were resolved by August 2019.

“Since discovering the data discrepancy in 2018, in coordination with the FAA, Southwest has enhanced its weight and balance program by implementing additional controls to strengthen the process of managing aircraft weight data in our systems,” the airline told FlyerTalk in a statement.

“We continue to monitor the performance of our weight and balance program closely to support our unwavering commitment to safety, compliance, and continuous improvement.”

As the proposed fines are not final, Southwest says they will “continue working with the FAA to demonstrate the effectiveness of our controls and processes and to achieve an effective and appropriate resolution to this proposed penalty.” The FAA fines are subject to a 30-day response window before any penalties are finalized.

View Comments (4)


  1. mikem004

    January 24, 2020 at 5:46 am

    >21,000 flights with incorrect weight and balance data<
    This is a serious safety matter. SouthWest have got off lightly.

  2. cscasi

    January 24, 2020 at 7:42 am

    Well, Southwest has been caught again. It does not want to pay the fine because it says it cooperated and made some changes to its weight and balance program and therefore should not pay the amount the FAA seeks.
    Well, if Southwest is such a great airline, it would have employees monitoring its programs and getting changes made as necessary. Then, when the FAA comes knocking, it would not find serious discrepancies. It’s just too easy for it to beg forgiveness rather than having to take the time to police itself.
    Pay the fine and get with the program!

  3. glob99

    January 24, 2020 at 10:55 am

    It took over a year to fix the system? That is crazy!

  4. dsellens

    January 24, 2020 at 11:43 am

    They were policing themselves. Read the article. They found the error in 3 months and self-reported it. The FAA did not find it. What the article doesn’t say and the writer probably didn’t know, is how severe the error was. It can’t have been too bad, or the pilots would have noticed that the aircraft were handling funky. Weight and balance get thrown together into a single category, but in reality, balance is generally not a problem. The baggage handlers know to load the baggage in a balanced manner. Being overweight, however, can be a major concern based on the severity of the error. Keep in mind that there is a considerable safety margin in those weight limits.

    Some of the lost bag issues are due to bags being bumped because of weight. There have even been a few cases where passengers got bumped because of critical heavy cargo. ( and boy you know what hit the fan when that happened).

    In a side story, a few years ago, I was on a flight where a large number of passengers didn’t get their bags due to a connection snafu. The baggage handlers didn’t realize the connecting flight was late too, so they didn’t forward the bags. Anyway, I didn’t get my bag for 4 days because of canceled flights and they didn’t have weight capacity to carry all the missed bags on the first couple of fully loaded flights that did make it thru. So the airlines do take this seriously.

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