Magazine article Risk Management

You Are Now Free to Worry about Your Safety

Magazine article Risk Management

You Are Now Free to Worry about Your Safety

Article excerpt

In March, Southwest Airlines was slapped with a record fine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for "deliberate violations" of inspection procedures. The $10.2 million penalty came amid a controversy that began when the FAA discovered that Southwest had allowed 46 Boeing 737s to stay in operation from June 18, 2006 to March 14, 2007 despite failing to comply with an order to inspect the aircraft for cracks. During this time, the uninspected planes, which required the checks due to their age, flew 59,791 flights. Even when the lapse was fully revealed to the company on March 14 after an FAA audit, Southwest failed to ground the planes for an additional nine days, during which time they flew an additional 1,451 flights.

The 737s were subsequently inspected and cracks were found on six of the planes. Though no catastrophe occurred (and Boeing issued a statement assuring the planes safety) this means that not only did Southwest operate uninspected planes for almost nine months, but even after becoming aware of the problem, it continued to do so for another nine days. Of course, this reflects poorly on whoever cleared the planes to remain in the air for those final 1,451 flights. Worse still, however, was that the decision came with an endorsement from an FAA employee, according to the claims of two inspectors that complained of their supervisors decision.

These claims prompted an investigations by the federal Office of Special Council and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whose findings led to the record $10.2 million fine. "By Federal law, these aircraft should have been grounded," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) in a hearing.

The airline was initially dismissive of the penalty, claiming that its decision to keep the planes in the air came with FAA approval. After beginning an internal investigation into the matter, however, the company changed its stance. …

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