The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $325,000 civil penalty against Southwest Airlines Inc. for allegedly operating a Boeing 737 aircraft that had been improperly repaired. According to the FAA, one of its inspectors in July 2014 discovered that Southwest had improperly listed a temporary repair to a Boeing 737 as a permanent repair and had operated the plane on 24,831 flights without performing the periodic inspections required for that temporary repair. According to the FAA, during an “aging aircraft inspection” on the plane, while it was at an El Salvador maintenance facility, the agency’s inspector discovered a nine-inch crease in the aluminum skin of the jetliner’s rear cargo door had been listed as a permanent repair when the fuselage fix was instead only temporary.
The FAA alleges that Southwest failed to perform required inspections of the temporary repair and flew the plane 4,831 times past the threshold by which it was required to have performed the permanent repair. The FAA said:
The inspector discovered that this fuselage damage had first been reported in Southwest Airlines’ maintenance records on May 2, 2002, which is when the airline made the temporary repair. The airline was required to inspect the temporary repair every 4,000 flights and complete a permanent repair within 24,000 flights.
Southwest has requested a meeting with the FAA to discuss the sanction. The airline claims it discovered the potential repair deficiency during a maintenance inspection and promptly addressed all issues to the satisfaction of the FAA before the aircraft was returned to revenue service. It appears the penalty will involve only one Southwest plane. The company said that “safety is the top priority at Southwest,” and that it always strive for “full compliance with established and approved maintenance processes and procedures.”
According to the agency, a final repair to the plane was made July 24, 2014. In March, the FAA proposed two civil penalties against Southwest totaling $328,550 for allegedly failing to properly inspect aircraft and for failing to properly record a repair. In the first incident, Southwest mechanics allegedly failed to complete a mandatory inspection after a 2013 flight lost cabin pressure and oxygen masks were deployed, and operated the plane on 123 flights before completing the inspection. The airline was accused of operating the plane on more than 120 flights with noncompliant oxygen equipment.
In the second incident, the FAA alleged that Southwest didn’t accurately record an air conditioning system repair to a Boeing 717 in the plane’s logbook and that its mechanics improperly deferred making the repairs and allowed the plane to be used on several passenger-carrying flights before resolving the issue.
In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation fined Southwest $1.6 million for violating a tarmac delay rule and failing to offer passengers on 16 delayed flights the opportunity to deplane within three hours of arrival and didn’t have enough staff to implement the airline’s tarmac delay contingency plan.
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