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Southwest puts three on leave over safety allegations

(CNN) — Southwest Airlines has placed three employees on administrative leave following allegations that the airline broke federal safety rules, the airline said.

The airline is conducting an internal investigation into allegations that it flew planes without proper inspections.

A $10.2 million fine may be levied against Southwest if it’s found to have violated the federal aviation regulations.

Upon learning last month of an investigation with respect to our handling of this inspection and an airworthiness directive, I immediately ordered an independent and comprehensive investigation by outside counsel, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said in a Tuesday statement.

The Federal Aviation Administration submitted documents to congressional investigators alleging that the airline flew at least 117 planes in violation of mandatory safety checks.

Of those, the FAA said, 47 jets were flown last year without conducting mandatory checks for cracks in the fuselage and 70 were allegedly flown without mandatory rudder inspections.

The FAA issued a statement saying that Southwest improperly inspected the planes for cracks, then allowed them to fly an additional 1,451 flights, knowing they weren’t airworthy.

In some cases, the documents say, the planes flew for 30 months past government inspection deadlines and should have grounded them until the inspections could be completed.

The documents were prepared by two FAA safety inspectors who have requested whistle-blower status from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Both inspectors have been subpoenaed to testify before the committee.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, who heads the committee and who has called the situation one of the worst safety violations he has ever seen, is scheduled to hold a hearing April 3 to ask why the airline may have allegedly put its passengers in danger.

The whistle-blowers say FAA managers knew about the lapse in safety at Southwest, but decided to allow the airline to conduct the safety checks on a slower schedule because taking aircraft out of service would have disrupted Southwest Airlines’ flight schedule.

I am concerned with some of our findings as to our controls over procedures within our maintenance airworthiness directive and regulatory compliance processes, Kelly said Tuesday. I have insisted that we have the appropriate maintenance organizational and governance structure in place to ensure that the right decisions are being made.

In addition to putting three employees on administrative leave, Southwest has hired a consultant to review its maintenance program controls and is working closely with the FAA on its current audit of the fleet.

These are important and necessary steps, Kelly said. We have been a safe company. I believe we are a safe company. I am committed to making sure we become safer still.

The mandatory checks for fuselage cracks were required after the cabin of an Aloha Airlines 737 tore apart in midair in 1988, killing a flight attendant. The incident was blamed on cracks in the fuselage that grew wider as the plane underwent pressure changes during flight.

Southwest Airlines has never had a catastrophic crash.
Southwest puts three on leave over safety allegations – found here.

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March 12, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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