Header Ads

Breaking News

F.A.A. Failed to Assure Southwest Airlines Safety, Report Says

Regulators failed to hold Southwest Airlines to account for not meeting safety standards, putting as many as 17 million passengers at risk on tens of thousands of flights, a federal watchdog said in a report on Tuesday.

The report found that the Federal Aviation Administration had allowed Southwest to routinely provide inaccurate data to pilots and to operate more than 150,000 flights on planes whose airworthiness had not been confirmed.

The agency also failed to investigate concerns raised by its own representatives “ranging from senior executives to local inspectors” over Southwest’s safety culture, according to the report, issued by the inspector general’s office at the Transportation Department.

It cited accusations from F.A.A. officials that Southwest used “diversion, distraction and power” to get what it wanted and would regularly bypass local officials by going straight to F.A.A. headquarters. The investigation was prompted by a hotline complaint and an engine explosion on a Southwest flight in April 2018 that was responsible for the first death on a U.S. airline in nine years.

In a statement on Tuesday, Southwest said it had made “significant progress” in addressing the issues in the report since the inspector general’s office stopped collecting data last fall. The airline also said it “adamantly” disagreed with how its safety culture was portrayed.

“The success of our business depends, in and of itself, on the safety of our operation, and while we work to improve each and every day, any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is absolutely unfounded,” said the airline, which operated nearly 1.4 million flights last year.

In an official response to the findings, the F.A.A. acknowledged the failures, describing steps its leadership took to address the concerns after seeing a draft of the inspector general’s report.

Among the report’s conclusions was that the agency failed to adequately certify that 88 Southwest planes bought from foreign carriers were up to federal standards.

Federal regulations allow carriers to use American-made planes acquired from foreign airlines, but only after the agency confirms their airworthiness. That process typically takes three to four weeks, but F.A.A. designees provided such certification for 71 of the 88 planes in just one day, the report found.

Despite discovering problems in the certification process in 2017, including concerns about improper repairs and documentation that had not been translated into English, F.A.A. inspectors allowed the planes to continue operating, the report found.

After the F.A.A. raised the concerns with Southwest, the agency and the carrier agreed to a two-year plan allowing the airline to continue operating the planes while inspections were carried out. (In its statement, Southwest said it was “well ahead” of a July deadline for the inspections.)

As of October, 24 of the planes were found to have had “undocumented, nonconforming or unverifiable repairs,” the report found. Those planes operated more than 150,000 flights carrying as many as 17.2 million passengers.

The report also found that Southwest “regularly and frequently” provided incorrect aircraft weight and balance data to pilots, raising safety concerns that could lead to potentially “hazardous or catastrophic conditions, including during takeoff and landing.”

The F.A.A. learned of the misinformation in January 2018, but deferred to the airline’s judgment on the gravity of the inaccuracies, the report said.

In an agreement with the agency, Southwest said it would take steps to address the problem, which stemmed from errors made by workers when they counted, loaded and documented bags, but the F.A.A. failed to follow up, according to the report.

In an analysis of agency data, the inspector general’s office counted more than 4,000 such errors between March 2018 and July 2019. The errors have been declining, but the airline continues to make them, it said.

The agency then let Southwest take its time investigating the cause of the inaccuracies, granting multiple extensions. F.A.A. managers also told the inspector general’s office that they felt it was up to Southwest and not the agency to determine the cause of the problem, a belief that the inspector general’s office said contradicted the F.A.A.’s own guidance.

The report offered 11 recommendations — including several dealing with the training and guidance given to inspectors — to improve federal oversight of Southwest. The F.A.A. said it agreed with the recommendations and planned to adopt most by the end of September.

Source link

No comments