Latest FAA tussle no laughing matter for LUV

While it might be April Fool’s Day, the news that Southwest Airlines is once again locked in a dispute with the FAA over alleged safety violations is sadly no joke.

The FAA proposed two new civil penalties totalling $328,550 against Southwest, which trades as LUV, yesterday (March 31) for suspected breaches of its safety regulations dating back to 2013.

In the first instance, which the FAA is persuing amounts to a $265,800 penalty, the regulator alleges that Southwest failed to correctly inspect a 737 that experienced a cabin depressurisation on a May 13, 2013 flight from Boston to St Louis.

During the flight, the aircraft lost cabin pressure which led to its oxygen masks being deployed, forcing the aircraft into making an emergency landing in Baltimore.

In a statement, the agency said that after the event, Southwest mechanics failed to complete a mandatory inspection to check whether the change in cabin pressure damaged the aircraft.

The FAA also claims that the airline allegedly carried out a further 123 flights with the aircraft before finally completing the inspection on June 3, 2013.

In a separate case dating back to March 18, 2013, for which the FAA has proposed a $62,750 penalty, it is alleged that teams failed to repair an Air Tran Airways 717 aircraft operated by Southwest after ice and water was reported as coming from its galley vent.

The FAA said maintenance teams delayed making the necessary repairs by improperly claiming an exemption and did not follow required procedures, including detailing the issue in the aircraft’s logbook.

Southwest has denied any wrongdoing and requested a meeting with the FAA. But the alleged safety breaches are just the latest in a series of disputes between the airline and regulator.

In February, Southwest removed 128 of its 737s from service when itdiscovered that scheduled checks on back-up hydraulic systems had not been performed. The aircraft returned to the skies six hours later after gaining FAA approval.

More seriously, a dispute over repairs to fuselage skins on 44 Southwest 737s which has contributed to the FAA proposing £12m penalty – its second largest ever – still rumbles on.

While the outcomes have yet to be determined, you would think thaT, these series of maintenance issues would be damaging public perceptions of Southwest. But the carrier has just posted its most successful year in its 44-year history, with record profits topping $1bn for the first time last year.

If the FAA penalties are imposed perhaps the safety conscience public might start to think of LUV with a little less affection.

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