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News Analysis: Southwest Flew ‘Unsafe’ Planes, FAA Under Fire

Southwest LogoThousands of passengers flew on “unsafe” Southwest aircraft as recently as last March, according to congressional documents obtained by the CNN. FAA inspectors submitted documents to congressional investigators, alleging Southwest operated at least 117 planes violating required safety checks.

On some occasions, the planes flew 30 months after government inspection deadlines had passed when the company should have grounded them, so they could be inspected.

The congressional air safety investigators deemed the planes “not airworthy,” and Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota said it was “one of the worst safety violations” he has ever witnessed.

Carrying more passengers in the United States than any other airline, Southwest Airlines refused to comment, as it is preparing for the hearings.

According to the FAA inspector’s statement, “Southwest Airlines at the time of discovery did not take immediate, corrective action as required to address this unsafe condition and continued to fly the affected aircraft with paying passengers.”

As BusinessWeek reports, Federal regulators will pursue a civil penalty of $10.2 million against Southwest—the largest civil penalty ever.

After missing inspections for cracks in fuselage, Southwest continued flying 47 jets, and the FAA said the airline operated almost 60,000 flights in 2006 and 2007. Southwest has 30 days to respond to the FAA. The FAA also is in trouble. A congressional committee and the Transportation Department’s Inspector General are investigating why the FAA did not ground the planes when it realized the airline missed inspections.

Related Links: CNN, BusinessWeek

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