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Congressman blasts Southwest Airlines' inspection system
08:38 PM CST on Friday, March 7, 2008
By DAVID MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON – One of Congress’ most influential voices on aviation safety said Friday that Southwest Airlines failed to subject dozens of jets to mandatory inspections because it didn’t want to take the jets out of commercial service.
Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his committee’s investigation of Southwest’s maintenance operation found that 117 jets were operated without being subjected to checks for fuselage cracks and rudder problems.
“There is strong evidence of systemic flaws in the Southwest air-worthiness” inspection system, said Mr. Oberstar, D-Minn.
Mr. Oberstar’s remarks follow the FAA’s disclosure of a record fine of $10.2 million against Southwest for knowingly flying more than three dozen jets without mandatory checks for structural damage. The inspections are required under federal law.
Mr. Oberstar also criticized the FAA’s approach to enforcing compliance with so-called airworthiness directives. Under a regulatory partnership approach, the FAA relies on airlines to conduct most of their own inspections. The airlines can be assessed lower fines if they report a violation on their own.
“We have seen the pendulum swing away from vigorous enforcement of compliance toward a carrier-favorable, cozy relationship with the airlines,” he said.
FAA officials also amplified their criticism of Southwest on Friday. Peggy Gilligan, deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, said the airline flunked the most basic test of safety.
“There is no simpler thing in the aviation industry for people to understand than the requirement for an AD [airworthiness directive],” Ms. Gilligan said.