The FAA is prepared to fine United Airlines up to $435,000 for allegedly operating a Boeing 787 that was not in an airworthy condition.
The FAA says that the aircraft was operated 23 times after United mechanics failed to inspect a new fuel pump pressure switch.
The penalty may seem harsh for a single oversight, but FAA fines are usually negotiated down. In 2015, for instance, Southwest Airlines paid almost $3 million to settle an enforcement action in which the FAA had originally sought $12 million.
In that case, the offending repair work was carried out by a third party--Aviation Technical Services--and while the maintenance company had to pay its own fine, Southwest, in the words of the FAA, "was responsible for ensuring that procedures were properly followed."
Two years earlier, American Airlines paid $24 million to settle a record fine for maintenance violations, which makes the recent United penalty seem fairly trivial. The previous United maintenance violation flagged by the FAA was settled for $42,500 in December 2015.
Nonetheless, such penalties do highlight the rigorous safety oversight of US air transport. According the FAA’s database, in 2015 there were roughly 400 enforcement actions against airlines, maintenance organisations and other aviation service providers.
Fines and certificate revocations were typically imposed for regulatory violations concerning maintenance, flight operations, record-keeping and drug testing.
"Maintaining the highest levels of safety depends on operators closely following all applicable rules and regulations," said FAA administrator Michael Huerta following the recent allegations against United.
"Failing to do so can create unsafe conditions," he added.
United has asked to meet with the FAA to discuss the case.