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American Airlines is fined $7.1 million

The FAA says two MD-80s were flown repeatedly despite autopilot problems.

August 15, 2008|Rick Popely | Chicago Tribune

American Airlines flew two MD-80 airplanes 58 times in December after pilots reported problems with the autopilot systems, a violation of safety regulations that potentially endangered passengers and crews, the government alleged Thursday.

The Federal Aviation Administration slapped American Airlines with a heavy $7.1-million fine for that lapse and others in the latest of several high-profile inspection incidents this year that saw American, as well as Southwest Airlines, chastised and punished for maintenance miscues.

"This was about them deferring some standard maintenance and continuing to fly the aircraft," FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said of Thursday's fine against American. "This potentially could have compromised the safety of passengers and the crew."

Duquette said the violations were discovered in the agency's routine review of American's maintenance records and not as part of the industrywide audit earlier this year that led to the grounding of hundreds of American MD-80 planes for wiring issues.

Southwest was fined $10.2 million for flying dozens of planes that were almost three years late for safety inspections and should have been grounded until the work was done.

Fort Worth-based American said it would appeal the fines after it reviewed the FAA's findings. "We do not agree with the FAA's findings and characterizations of American's actions in these cases. We believe the proposed penalties are excessive," the carrier said.

Industry analyst Robert Mann said the FAA was cracking down on airlines after a spate of high-profile inspection breaches. Congressional hearings in the spring indicated that the FAA and Southwest falsified records of safety inspections, embarrassing the agency that is supposed to be a watchdog.

As a rash of maintenance problems came to light this spring, the FAA directed inspectors to make sure every U.S. airline was in full compliance with safety orders. That led to the grounding of American Airlines' full fleet of MD-80s in April. "From those hearings, the suggestion was that there was far too cozy a relationship between the FAA and the airlines' inspection management," Mann said.

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rpopely@tribune.com

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