Wiring Checkup Stops Hundreds Of Flights

By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008; D03

American Airlines canceled about 300 flights yesterday so that wiring on the carrier's entire fleet of Boeing MD-80s could be checked after a federal audit raised concerns about an earlier inspection.

American's cancellations -- a majority of which occurred at its hubs in Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth -- represented roughly 13 percent of the carrier's total flights. Seven flights from the Washington area were canceled.

Last night, Delta Air Lines said it would put more than 100 MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft through similar inspections until the end of the week. Delta is conducting the inspections because MD-88s and -90s are related to MD-80s.

American's reexaminations were undertaken after a team of American Airlines and Federal Aviation Administration inspectors investigated a 2006 airworthiness directive, or safety inspection notice, and expressed "concerns of how the work was accomplished," said FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette. On Tuesday night, the airline began reinspecting its 300 MD-80s, twin-engine jets that carry up to 172 passengers and make up about 45 percent of American's total fleet.

The reinspection, which took up to two hours each, focused on the attachment of bundles of wires that power the plane's auxiliary hydraulic unit, said airline spokesman Tim Wagner. "The aircraft will be rotated in throughout the day as inspections are completed," Wagner said.

As of yesterday afternoon, 200 planes had been inspected and 80 were found to need modification, the airline said.

This is the second time this week AMR, American's parent company, canceled flights because of the FAA's industrywide investigation of maintenance records. Last Friday, AMR's regional carrier, American Eagle, grounded 25 CRJ-700 jets for about 3 1/2 hours to review the completion of airworthiness directives. Wagner said American Eagle was confident that the FAA's directives had been fulfilled but nevertheless kept the fleet grounded until any questions had been answered.

Earlier this month, the FAA fined Southwest Airlines $10.2 million for flying 46 planes without performing mandatory inspections for fuselage cracks. In response to the fine, the largest ever sought against an airline, Southwest grounded 38 aircraft for examination two weeks ago.

Shortly after, acting FAA administrator Robert Sturgell announced that the agency would begin in-depth review of all 118 U.S. commercial carriers, investigating their compliance with a sample of 10 airworthiness directives.

"The FAA has put airlines on notice," said Michael Miller, an aviation analyst in Orlando. "It's not going to put up with shoddy maintenance and bad record keeping."

The agency's audit will conclude Friday. The full results should be compiled early next week, said Duquette.

"We're seeing a very high rate of compliance so far," said Duquette.

The sweep is unrelated to airline accidents, Miller said. In fact, 2007 was one of the safest years for the industry. U.S. airlines did not have a single passenger fatality or major accident last year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

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