Southwest Airlines Has History Of Not Inspecting Aircraft For Cracks


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Southwest Airlines Has History Of Not Inspecting Aircraft For Cracks

By Mike Mitchell

April 8, 2011 - The GOP has proposed to cut $4 billion from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget. House Republicans have stated government can spend less on aviation oversight and still maintain air travel safety.

Rep. John Mica (R) Florida, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA could reduce "bureaucratic staff" without harming safety. Rep. Jerry Costello (D) Illinois said, "it absolutely will affect safety."  

By offering the wealthy additional tax breaks the GOP has no choice but to make cuts in order to ?bring down the deficit? even if it?s at the cost of the traveling public.

House Democrats have stated the proposed cuts not only would cause the layoff of hundreds of FAA workers, it would also force the FAA to layoff safety inspectors and delay modernization of the nation's air traffic system. As the GOP calls for less government regulations and for business to self-regulate, one wonders what would the GOP have said if they were on Southwest Airlines Flight 812 which experienced an in-flight fuselage rupture of 18 inches that led to a rapid depressurization of the aircraft and oxygen masks were deployed. Why did this happen? 

In 2005, Lufthansa Technik helped Southwest Airlines migrate their Boeing 737 maintenance program to a new model that promised to be good for business. In a press release, Lufthansa wrote, ?The significant reduction in the number of maintenance tasks results in savings of up to 30 percent on maintenance costs, with less time in the hangar corresponding to extra revenue-earning flying hours.?  

After a hole ripped through the cabin of a Southwest Boeing 737-300 flying over Arizona last week, such proclamations ought to cause pause. Lufthansa Technik (short ?LHT?) is a provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for aircraft, engines and components. It is a subsidiary of Lufthansa Airlines located in Hamburg Germany. 

While the FAA has ordered a review of the agency?s older plane inspections, the union UNITE HERE today called on the FAA to also review how cost-reduction programs such as those pushed by Lufthansa pose risks to proper execution of existing FAA standards.


Last Friday?s incident is not the first cause for concern from Southwest since the airline instituted the revamped maintenance program with Lufthansa Technik. In 2008, the FAA sought civil penalties against Southwest for ?flying planes that were not inspected for cracks.? Nicholas A. Sabatini, the agency's associate administrator for aviation safety at the time, said in the Washington Post, "The FAA is taking action against Southwest Airlines for a failing to follow rules that are designed to protect passengers and crew.? 

Lufthansa Technik had a long relationship with Southwest, dating at least back to a 2001 project to revamp Southwest?s maintenance management. Lufthansa Technik still listed Southwest as a client as late as 2009. While Southwest Airlines voluntarily grounded 15 percent of its Boeing 737 fleet after the incident, Lufthansa airline said on Monday that it had no plans to ground its own Boeing 737 aircraft. After Friday?s incident, Lufthansa only inspected 3 of its 33 737-300 planes for the metal fatigue that impacted Southwest, on the grounds that these are the only three from the same ?series? as the Southwest jet. Lufthansa has the second largest Boeing 737-300 fleet in the world. 

Southwest Airlines has reported they have inspected 79 of its older Boeing 737 aircraft and have identified five aircraft that have cracks in their aluminum skin. Four 737 planes are being repaired and will most likely return back to service on Saturday and the fifth aircraft will be held back for additional maintenance.

Lufthansa Technik is the aviation company?s maintenance subsidiary. In 2010, it accounted for 24 percent of Lufthansa?s total group operating profit. Should we let the airline industry self-regulate and who will carry out FAA safety inspections when the safety inspectors are laid off?  (See Aircraft Maintenance In America Who Is Fixing My Plane?)

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