Southwest grounds 44 aircraft after record fine for safety lapses
( dpa ) - Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has grounded 44 of its aircraft for spot inspections, the company said Wednesday, less than one week after US authorities imposed a record 10.2-million-dollar fine on the airline for failing to comply with safety regulations.
Southwest said it grounded the planes Tuesday night after an internal review of maintenance records "discovered an ambiguity related to required testing."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday said it had imposed the record fine because Southwest deliberately failed to conduct mandatory safety inspections of the fuselage on some 46 aircraft.
The planes operated for nearly eight months between 2006 and 2007 - 59,791 flights in total - without meeting an FAA directive to repeatedly inspect areas of the fuselage for possible cracks.
The airline continued to fly the 46 planes for another eight days even once the airline became aware of the lapse. Six of the aircraft were later found to have fuselage fatigue cracks when they were inspected, according to the FAA.
The Transportation Department is investigating whether FAA officials may have been complicit in allowing the flights to continue over the eight-day period to prevent a backlog.
Southwest said the grounding order led to about 4 per cent of flights being cancelled on Wednesday and said all inspections would be completed by the evening.
Southwest on Tuesday said it had suspended three employees as a result of internal investigations and hired an outside consultant to review maintenance controls within the airline.
Chief executive Gary Kelly said he was "concerned" by the company's findings but insisted the airline had maintained a safe flying record.
"We have been a safe company. I believe we are a safe company. I am committed to making sure we become safer still," he said in a statement.