An American Airlines plane flew 53 flights after a federal inspector noticed a fuel leak and informed crew members, the U.S. government claims in a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn.

The complaint says American, the world's largest carrier, violated U.S. regulations by flying an unsafe plane and seeks civil penalties of more than $1 million. While the leak was first observed by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector in November 2003, American continued operating the plane for a month before repairs were made, the suit alleges.

"These violations reflect a disregard for the safety of passengers and the regulations that exist to safeguard our skies," U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf said in a written statement.

"We are aware of what might have precipitated this lawsuit," said Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American. "It's something we have been working on with the FAA for over two years now, and we will continue to do that."

An FAA inspector traveling as a passenger on a flight from Orlando to New York City on Nov. 17, 2003, noticed fuel leaking from the right wing of the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 and reported it to the crew, Mauskopf said.

After the warning, American flew the plane on 53 commercial flights, until a regular maintenance check on Dec. 2, 2003, Mauskopf said. The inspector's report of the leak was not entered in official maintenance logs, she said.