The Federal Aviation Administration is probing claims by one of its inspectors that it didn't adequately boost oversight of Northwest Airlines Corp. after mechanics went on strike.
The FAA failed to enter into a database 470 inspector reports, at least 58% of which cited defects, Sen. Mark Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a letter to the FAA, citing the inspector's assertions.
The agency is looking into the claim, an FAA spokesman said. Northwest has kept flights operating since the Aug. 20 walkout by contracting with 1,200 replacement mechanics, using 350 management mechanics and shifting more work to outside vendors. Northwest "is in daily contact with the FAA and together we work to address any issues that the FAA brings to our attention," airline spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said.
As many as 90% of the 470 reports filed from Aug. 20 to Aug. 31 cited defects, compared with a 3% to 5% rate prior to Aug. 20, Dayton said in his Friday letter to FAA head Marion C. Blakey, citing the assertions. A defect rate of more than 9% would trigger increased oversight.
Separately, Standard & Poor's on Tuesday downgraded Northwest's debt further into junk status. Northwest's S&P rating fell from CCC-plus to CCC-minus for its long-term corporate debt.
"Northwest is managing through a strike by its mechanics well, but dramatically increased fuel expense and delays in securing needed concessions from other unions have deepened losses and are eroding its liquidity," S&P credit analyst Philip Baggaley said.
Even though it will be flying less than usual, Northwest expects to pay $900 million for fuel during the fourth quarter, 39% more than the same period last year.