By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
American Airlines yesterday canceled as many as 500 flights so mechanics could re-inspect planes to ensure that wire bundling on the jets met federal safety standards.
The cancellations are expected to continue through today and possibly tomorrow, the airline said.
It is the second time in two weeks that American has grounded its fleet of 300 Boeing MD-80 aircraft to inspect and repair wire bundles in the planes' wheel wells. The twin-engine jets, which can seat as many as 72 passengers, are the workhorses of the carrier's fleet.
An American representative said the wiring issues were not safety hazards. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, the carrier had inspected and repaired 10 planes. American had more than 2,000 departures scheduled yesterday.
"These inspections -- based on FAA audits -- are related to detailed, technical compliance issues and not safety-of-flight issues," the carrier said in a news release.
Airline maintenance and the carriers' compliance with federal safety mandates has become a hot political issue.
Last week, the House Transportation Committee held a hearing that revealed what lawmakers described as a cozy relationship between a FAA supervisor and Southwest Airlines.
FAA inspectors who came forward said that Southwest was allowed last year by that supervisor to continue flying planes that were in need of key safety inspections. The FAA fined Southwest $10.2 million for the missed safety checks, and the supervisor was moved out of his job.
Since the Southwest incident was reported in the news media last month, several other airlines have grounded hundreds of planes and canceled hundreds of flights to make sure their aircraft were in compliance. Those groundings were related to problems with wire bundling, cracking of the planes' skin and missed tests on fire extinguishing systems in cargo holds.
In American's case, FAA inspectors and American representatives found last month that wire bundles in the jets' wheel wells did not meet safety and engineering standards. The airline grounded hundreds of planes over several days for inspections and repairs.
In recent days, FAA inspectors and airline officials discovered that mechanics did not conduct rigorous enough checks the first time around, regulators and American representatives said.
Ties holding the wires together were too far apart in some cases, and some clamps were facing the wrong direction, the airline said.
An FAA spokeswoman said that inspectors found that 15 of 19 of the MD-80 jets were not in compliance.
"We've been working in good faith to ensure that we are in complete compliance" with federal safety rules, the carrier's chief executive, Gerard Arpey, said in a statement. "We regret and apologize that we are once again causing inconvenience to our customers."