News Analysis: FAA Inspection-Gate Causes Cancellations

Locations in this article:  Amsterdam, Netherlands Los Angeles, CA

Flying AirplaneIt began with Southwest getting caught flying “unsafe” planes, resulting in 42 planes grounded, thousands of passengers temporarily stranded, and a record fine.

Then came the promise that the FAA would inspect maintenance records for all of the airlines under its jurisdiction. Next came United’s inspection-related groundings, involving its Boeing 747s.

Now, American Airlines has grounded 300 MD-80 jetliners for wiring inspections and repairs, while Delta has done the same with a 117 of its MD-88 jets as well, representing about 20 percent of its global fleet.

As Seinfeld might say, “What is the deal?”

Federal inspectors discovered irregularities and American had to cancel 10 domestic flights from Los Angeles yesterday morning, but as the inspections grew, more flights were canceled. AA has grounded well over 200 flights nationally, which makes up 40 percent to 45 percent of its service.

LAX spokesperson Albert Rodriguez said he doesn’t expect all the planes to be in service until Thursday afternoon, while Delta spokesperson Betsy Talton said that Delta should be back to “70 percent” then, with full service by Friday morning.

In conjunction with the airlines, federal inspectors will also audit airlines’ compliance with 10 FAA airworthiness standards by Friday. They then will audit an additional 10 percent of “airworthiness standards” specific to planes in each airline’s fleet by June 30, officials said. On Wednesday, American spokesperson Ian Gregor said the national FAA audit has shown a “very high rate of compliance” with federal regulations thus far.

Inspecting Airplane EnginesThe next day spokesman Tim Wagner revealed that of the 300 planes inspected “at least 80 have needed modifications.” Other have pointed out that since

As traveler Amy Isenberg told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s good to know that they’re taking precautions, but I’m still nervous that there are problems in the first place.”

Still, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), since 1980, there has been only one fatal incident with either MD-88s or MD-80s that can be attributed to mechanical failure from a lax inspection regime by an American airline.

In 1996 in Pensacola, Florida, a MD-88 operated by Delta killed two and seriously injured several more people when it crashed on takeoff. A NTSB investigation later blamed an insufficient inspection regime as the cause.

It remains to be seen whether these latest inspections will prevent future incidents with these planes.

News Links: Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, USA Today, NTSB

By New Media Manager Matt Calcara for

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