FAA Fines American Airlines $7.1 Million

By Joan Lowy
Associated Press
Friday, August 15, 2008

The Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday that it is seeking $7.1 million in penalties from American Airlines for continuing to fly airliners after safety problems were reported and for drug-testing violations.

The airline delayed repairs on two MD-80s -- a mid-size airliner -- after problems were reported with their autopilot systems, and flew them 58 times in violations of federal regulations, the FAA said.

"The FAA believes the large total amount of the fine for these violations is appropriate because American Airlines was aware that appropriate repairs were needed, and instead deferred maintenance," the agency said in a statement.

The largest fine FAA has ever proposed against an airline was $10.2 million against Southwest Airlines in March for flying airplanes without performing mandatory inspections, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said. The FAA and Southwest are still negotiating a final penalty, he said.

American released a statement calling the fine "excessive" and saying it intends to contest it. "We do not agree with the FAA's findings and characterizations of American's action in these cases," the airline said.

On Dec. 11 and 12, American delayed maintenance to the autopilot system of one of the MD-80s and flew the airliner eight more times in airspace where planes are allowed to group more closely together, violating FAA regulations, Dorr said. It would have been permissible to continue to fly the plane in less restricted airspace, he said.

An FAA inspector discovered the violations and informed American, but the airline sent the plane on 10 more flights carrying passengers before the problem was fixed on Dec. 17, the agency said.

In another incident involving the same plane later that month, the autopilot reportedly disconnected during a landing, but American technicians did not check for the right problem and improperly delayed maintenance again, the FAA said.

The FAA is also seeking fines against American for violating drug and alcohol testing procedures involving several dozen flight attendants and other employees, only one of whom was a pilot, Dorr said.

The airline also did not make timely inspections of its emergency lighting systems inside aircraft for several years, the FAA said.

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