FAA Gives Southwest Airlines More Time for Repairs

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration gave Southwest Airlines the green light to continue flying about 50 commercial jets, or 10 percent of its fleet, allowing the carrier more time to remove unauthorized parts from its planes.

The brackets in question support exhaust gates on older Boeing 737s. They are designed to divert engine exhaust away from the wings when a jet's flaps are extended.

In a statement, the FAA said it would allow the airline to continue to operate the planes on the condition that each be physically inspected for wear and tear every seven days. The agency said all the brackets must be replaced by Dec. 24.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the maintenance company used by Southwest improperly subcontracted work, leading to the installation of the brackets. He said 737s flying with the unapproved parts pose no immediate danger. But he said the FAA's certification system is important because it allows the agency to closely track the quality of equipment on planes.

Lunsford said an FAA inspector at a Southwest repair facility noticed discrepancies in paperwork covering plane repairs in August. Subsequent digging by the inspector led to the discovery that a number of Southwest jets had the unapproved brackets installed. The FAA informed Southwest on Aug. 22 that it was flying at least 42 planes with unauthorized parts, and gave the airline 10 days to make changes.

Southwest, after scouring its own records, later said that 82 planes were flying with the brackets. So far, Southwest has removed the brackets from 33 planes, a company spokesman said.

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