More American Flights Canceled Over Jets' Wiring

American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights Wednesday, more than one-third of its schedule, as it spent a second straight day inspecting the wiring on some of its jets. Video by AP
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

American Airlines' chief executive apologized yesterday for stranding tens of thousands of passengers this week as his carrier continued to reinspect hundreds of jets for wiring that failed to meet federal safety standards.

American, which had been forced to cancel nearly 1,000 flights yesterday, had put 123 of its 300 Boeing MD-80 jets back into service by the afternoon. The carrier has scrubbed nearly 2,500 departures since Tuesday and expects to cancel 570 more today. At the Washington area's three major airports yesterday, the airline scrapped 26 flights, affecting about 2,500 passengers.

Delta Air Lines, Alaska and Midwest airlines have also cancelled flights to inspect for wiring problems in the wheel wells of some of their planes.

American's representatives said they expect the airline's schedule to be back to normal by Saturday night.

Gerard Arpey, the carrier's chief executive, said the groundings, customer service problems, inspections and repairs to its fleet of MD-80s will cost American "tens of millions" of dollars.

"I take full personal responsibility," Arpey told reporters, adding that he was "profoundly sorry we have gotten ourselves into this situation."

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Federal Aviation Administration continued to take a drubbing from lawmakers over alleged lapses in oversight of airline maintenance practices.

"The FAA is an agency that's spiraling downward and approaching the losing of the confidence of the American people," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the chamber's aviation subcommittee, said during a hearing on FAA oversight practices.

Rockefeller and other lawmakers said they were concerned over revelations from whistle-blowing FAA inspectors that a supervisor improperly allowed Southwest Airlines to operate planes in need of important safety checks last year. The supervisor, who worked in the FAA's Dallas office, which oversees Southwest, has been transferred to other duties, as has a top official in the agency's Washington headquarters. Lawmakers said the incident proved that the FAA was too cozy with the airlines.

FAA officials countered that air travel has never been safer and that they were taking steps to ensure problems in the Dallas office are not present elsewhere.

"We are working very hard to get this right and to review our processes in the future so we don't have a repeat" of such problems, said Nicholas Sabatini, the FAA's top safety official.

The FAA has fined Southwest $10.2 million for flying planes in need of safety checks, and it has launched two audits of the nation's air carriers to ensure they are complying with safety directives. Airlines including United and Southwest have been forced to ground planes in recent weeks to conduct inspections.

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