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More American Flights Canceled Over Jets' Wiring
Delta Air Lines and American parked hundreds of MD-80s, MD-88s and MD-90s two weeks ago to conduct checks of wire bundles in the wheel wells. The FAA had issued a safety directive in 2006 designed to prevent wires in the bundles from becoming chafed. Regulators expressed concerns that such wear might result in an "ignition source close to the fuel tanks, which . . . could result in a fuel tank explosion," records show.
American executives said the carrier's mechanics inspected its MD-80s when the directive was issued and made requested repairs.
Arpey, American's chief executive, said yesterday that mechanics had been concerned with ensuring there were no signs of chafing on the wires during the first round of inspections. When none was found and some other minor repairs were made, the planes were put back into service, the airline has said.
However, as part of a second audit of the airlines, FAA inspectors recently found that 15 of 19 MD-80s did not meet the wiring requirements. The MD-80 was built by McDonnell Douglas, which later merged with Boeing.
Inspectors found slack wires, clamps in the wrong position, insulation that was too thick and ties that were spread too far apart, the airline has said.
The FAA then denied American's request to space out inspections and repairs over several days while continuing to operate the fleet.
Airline industry representatives have expressed surprise at the FAA's stance toward American. In the past, they said, the agency would likely have allowed the carrier to make the fixes over a period of days or weeks. They noted the 2006 directive on the MD-80 wiring gave airlines 18 months to comply with the order. That means that regulators, while concerned about the wiring, didn't believe that making the changes was a pressing safety matter.
"I think it would be fair to say the FAA is stepping up surveillance," Arpey told reporters at a news conference.
Safety experts said other carriers should be conducting in-depth reviews of their records and planes to ensure they do not suffer the same problems as American when FAA inspectors begin poking around.
"The airlines are all in this business to make money, and certainly they have gotten the message now that they need to clean up their act," said Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "If they tend to those problems and adhere to the regulations, hopefully this is just a limited amount of turbulence. . . . I think you will see the airlines pay attention."