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Insta-CoGo: Southwest Flying Cracked Planes?

Cindy Loose

Wow. While CoGo was checking into passenger complaints about lost bags and delayed flights, it seems Southwest Airlines might have been flying old planes with big cracks in them! CoGo feels so guilty.

But wait, enforcing rules about required inspections of older planes isn't CoGo's job; its the job of FAA officials. And where were they until last night, when announcing they may impose record fines of $10 million against Southwest for the airline's alleged lapse in following safety regulations for as long as 30 months?

CoGo calls for an immediate congressional investigation.

The FAA says Southwest continued to fly 117 planes for at least 10 days last year even after the administration ordered the planes grounded until they passed mandatory inspections. Records also allegedly show that some of the planes operated illegally for as long as 30 months, and at least some FAA officials knew it was happening.

The planes involved are Boeing 737s. Airlines were ordered to do regular inspections after three fatal crashes involving the older planes. Southwest says the planes were safe, and the airline will fight the FAA fine.

But let's not forget Southwest's part in all this. Thomas R. Anthony, a former FAA inspector who directs the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California, told the Associated Press that if Southwest operated flights with planes that should have been inspected, "we have to ask how effective are the airline's internal controls. What decisions allowed them to continue to operate" those planes.

On CNN today, Southwest's CEO defended the company's actions, saying the directives involved one of many routine, redundant, and overlapping inspections on 46 of Southwest's more than
500 aircraft. Hear his side of things here.

How do you feel about these revelations?

By Cindy Loose |  March 7, 2008; 12:17 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Airplanes , Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo
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Cindy, I really think you also need to boldface the sentence: "Records also allegedly show that some of the planes operated illegally for as long as 30 months, and at least some FAA officials knew it was happening."

Yes, this may be the biggest fine ever levied in FAA history. But they may also be complicit! That's a pretty important subplot that a lot of media seem to be glossing over.

Posted by: BxNY | March 7, 2008 12:30 PM

Seriously? Alarmist, much? You fail to mention several very important facts in all this, including that both the FAA and Boeing (the manufacturer of the aircraft!) agreed that the planes could keep flying until the inspections were conducted.

For a far more balanced description, see (for example)
http://crankyflier.com/2008/03/07/southwest-unsafe-aircraft/

Posted by: Andy | March 7, 2008 12:39 PM

For fairness, you may also want to mention that Southwest brought all of this to the FAA's attention.

http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/BoeingDefendsSouthwest_197323-1.html

Posted by: Kim | March 7, 2008 1:17 PM

"both the FAA and Boeing (the manufacturer of the aircraft!) agreed that the planes could keep flying until the inspections were conducted"

Also... *sniff* I can keep driving the schoolbus until I take the court-appointed drug test.

Posted by: SA | March 7, 2008 1:23 PM

Oh wow, this really isn't what I want to see after booking a Southwest ticket last night. Well, wish me luck! Heh...

Posted by: csdiego | March 7, 2008 1:40 PM

I fly SWA all the time. Maybe this is why (and fuel costs, too) their fares have pretty much doubled and they cut out some flights?

Posted by: WDC 21113 | March 7, 2008 2:43 PM

I see that Southwest has their designated bloggers busy, in the persons of "Kim" and "Andy". Nice to see Southwest reps giving the party line here.

Posted by: Sasquatch | March 7, 2008 3:14 PM

The fact that these planes are old and out of date says to me that Boeing - who just lost the big Army deal - should institute a recycling or trade-in program with the airlines.

Everyone wins - Boeing gets to actually build some planes and can recycle major metal materials. Airlines get new planes. Consumers don't have to worry that their planes have cracks. We don't have to spend tax money monitoring old planes because THEY AREN'T IN THE AIR.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 7, 2008 7:59 PM

Interesting concept Chasmosaur. Brings up an interesting question: Where do planes end up to get scrapped? I am guessing you are suggesting something like an automobile trade in, where the airlines would get some $ off a new plane, when they trade in an old jet. But, the old jet gets scrapped as opposed to being refurbished and resold. Also, would they give more $ off for an old Boeing jet, or treat all planes the same ( based on size)?

Posted by: rja112 | March 10, 2008 12:23 AM

Gee thanks, sasquatch.

Just trying to keep the masses aware of the facts:
1. SWA was negligent in their maintenance.
2. The FAA was negligent in their oversight of SWA.....to the point that they likely wouldn't have known about the issue for a much longer time.

I'd just like to give someone credit for owning up to their mistakes, and not trying to cover it up.

If the FAA comes down with an uber-heavy fine like the one suggested, that'll deter airlines (especially ones on the brink of financial disaster) from coming forward with mistakes.

Posted by: Kim | March 10, 2008 8:43 AM

The fact that these planes are old and out of date says to me that Boeing - who just lost the big Army deal - should institute a recycling or trade-in program with the airlines.

Everyone wins - Boeing gets to actually build some planes and can recycle major metal materials. Airlines get new planes. Consumers don't have to worry that their planes have cracks. We don't have to spend tax money monitoring old planes because THEY AREN'T IN THE AIR.
Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 7, 2008 07:59 PM


Some of those older airplanes wind up in storage facilities or boneyards in the west. Those with useful service life (ditched by the airlines before their time was up) get refurbed and sold to lesser airlines around the world where inspections and regulations aren't as tight as they are here.

Posted by: Kim | March 10, 2008 8:46 AM

This is what happens when you outsource your repairs to El Salvador.

Posted by: Liz | March 10, 2008 10:16 AM

It bears repeating that Southwest Airlines alerted the FAA about the problem and talked with their local FAA office with a plan to take care of this problem.
I am not belittling the situation, but am very tired of so many people immediately jumping to the wrong conclusion without all the facts.
By the way, I do not work at Southwest Airlines, but I do fly on their planes very frequently and definitely want them to be in excellent condition.

Posted by: Dorothy | March 12, 2008 7:15 PM

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