American Airlines grounded 200 flights on MD-80s to check the wiring, thought you might be interested.
Sorry if the link doesn't owrk, I'm at work and the computers we have don't allow us to copy and paste.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Hi Murray, hope you're doing okay! I don't think the link works, but thanks for trying.
Here's an article about it:
American Airlines forced to ground 80 planes for inspection
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 27, 2008
American Airlines canceled eight domestic flights from Los Angeles International Airport this morning after grounding 80 of its MD-80 jetliners nationwide for wiring inspections after federal regulators raised questions about domestic airlines complying with safety regulations for parts.
About 1,000 passengers saw their flights canceled this morning, LAX spokesman Albert Rodriguez said. Airline staff rerouted passengers on later flights, but expected the planes to be up and running later today, Rodriguez said.
American had 82 flights still scheduled to depart LAX as of this morning, Rodriguez said.
The airline canceled 200 flights nationally this morning, but expected its inspections of wiring bundles attached to the planes' auxiliary hydraulic pumps to be completed within a few hours, according to a corporate statement.
The cancellations did not affect passengers at other local airports, including Burbank's Bob Hope Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, spokeswomen there said.
The grounded flights come during a new Federal Aviation Administration audit of airlines' compliance with federal airworthiness standards, which govern plane parts and maintenance, federal officials said. The standard concerning MD-80 wiring was issued two years ago, but FAA inspectors began auditing American and other airlines earlier this month after they discovered Southwest Airlines failed to meet the federal requirements.
FAA officials have since recommended Southwest pay a $10.2-million fine.
Federal inspectors plan to audit domestic airlines' compliance with 10 FAA airworthiness standards by Friday, and then review an additional 10% of airworthiness standards specific to planes in each airline's fleet by June 30, officials said.
"What you're seeing today is a result of that audit," said Los Angeles-based FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. "Our inspector who is looking at American Airlines records raised some questions about whether American was complying with that order."
So far, Gregor said the national FAA audit has shown a "very high rate of compliance" with federal regulations.
An American Airlines corporate spokeswoman did not return calls this morning.
Delta Air Lines Inc. is canceling 275 flights through early March 28 so it can run safety inspections on wiring in 117 MD-88 aircraft.
"Delta is working in full partnership with the FAA and is proactively and voluntarily revalidating the full compliance of a prior airworthiness directive completed earlier this year," the airline said in a statement. "We expect this voluntary review, which is taking place on Delta's 117 MD-88 aircraft, to result in approximately 275 cancellations through early Friday, impacting about 3 percent of Delta's worldwide flight schedule. Based on the aggressive and proactive re-inspection schedule, Delta expects inspections to be complete on approximately 70 percent of its MD-88 fleet by early evening, with normal operations planned by early Friday."
Delta said it has beefed up staff at its largest hubs, especially Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to accommodate higher-than-normal customer volume.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines serves central New Mexico air travelers through the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Sorry about the link Barb, the computers at work suck.
As soon as I read the story I thought about you and Flight 111. I suppose the good news is they're checking the wiring a little more closely now, and no one had to die this time. But we still have a long way to go.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Thanks, Murray, I really appreciate that you brought that to my attention. Hope you are doing well.
Doin pretty good, work is stressin but I just bought a used car which is nice, I missed being able to drive. I just wish it would stop snowing.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Glad to hear about the car. It's still snowing there? Unbelievable! Of course we have some in our forecast for Sunday night, but for some reason, we've had very little this year. Sorry to hear you are still getting bad weather.
United Airlines Grounds 777s for Fire-Safety Checks (Update3)
By Tracy Alloway and Mary Schlangenstein
April 2 (Bloomberg) -- UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, the largest U.S. operator of Boeing Co. 777s, grounded its fleet of all 52 of the long-haul jets after failing to make required checks of the planes' fire-suppression system.
``United will not operate these aircraft until the tests are complete,'' the Chicago-based airline said today in a statement. So far, the carrier has canceled 28 of its 84 daily 777 departures, spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said in an interview.
Inspecting the fleet will take 24 to 36 hours, and United will use other planes or send fliers to other carriers in the interim, McCarthy said. No problems were found in the first 12 reviews, she said. Thirty-three of United's 777s are extended- range models primarily used for international fights, said Douglas Runte, managing director at RBS Greenwich Capital.
It's the second maintenance issue discovered at United since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration stepped up scrutiny of carriers after proposing a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines Co. over missed inspections. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. last week grounded jets while complying with a government directive.
UAL fell 51 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $22.62 at 9:37 a.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading.
United's 777s make up about 11 percent of its fleet. The carrier has 3,300 total daily departures.
United and U.S. regulators are also probing crossed landing-gear wires that may have caused two Airbus SAS A320 jets to skid off runways over the past four months, before the FAA crackdown on maintenance. Last month, United had to retest instruments on seven Boeing 747s after learning equipment used for inspections was overdue to be calibrated.
The maintenance gap disclosed today concerned the failure to perform a test on the firing mechanism on one of five bottles in the cargo fire-suppression system of the 777s, United said.
``This is something required by their maintenance program,'' said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA. ``We didn't tell them to ground the planes.
Last Updated: April 2, 2008 09:47 EDT
American Air cancels flights for MD-80 inspections
Tue Apr 8, 2008 5:46pm EDT WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp (AMR.N: Quote, Profile, Research), canceled up to 500 flights on Tuesday to conduct additional safety inspections of its MD-80 aircraft, the airline said.
American said in a statement that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raised new concerns about recent MD-80 wiring inspections that resulted in canceled flights two weeks ago.
The current and previous inspections stem from an industry wide FAA review of airline compliance with agency safety directives.
Several carriers have grounded aircraft as a result of the audit, which was triggered by inspection and maintenance lapses at Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and pressure from government watchdogs and congressional investigators to take action.
American said additional cancellations were likely on Wednesday.
"We've been working in good faith to ensure that we are in compliance with this airworthiness directive," said Gerard Arpey, AMR's chairman and chief executive.
American operates nearly 300 MD-80 aircraft, about half its overall fleet, mainly on routes servicing the carrier's Dallas and Chicago hubs.
The inspection at American relate to a 2006 FAA order that wiring in MD-80 wheel wells was properly installed and secured. The FAA had additional questions about how the work was performed at American.
Any plane that does not conform to detailed technical specifications of the order will be grounded while the work is completed, American said.
American re-accommodated passengers on other American flights or those operated by other airlines.
(Editing by Andre Grenon)
FORTH WORTH, Texas (CNN) -- Capt. Sam Mayer says he knew he was in trouble when he heard a noise minutes after takeoff from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on a frigid day last December.
American Airlines admits landing gear problems. Pilots have refuted claims that issues were due to cold weather.
The American Airlines pilot says the plane's nose gear would not retract and he quickly began circling the Minnesota airport. But freezing temperatures and icy precipitation started to create problems inside the plane, Mayer says.
"Our windshield started to cover with ice from the bottom working its way up," he says.
"As we were running the emergency procedures, there was a pop. Everyone's ears blew out. We realized that we had lost the pressurization of the aircraft at that time."
Within minutes, Mayer managed to bring the airplane safely back to the airport. But when he inspected the exterior of the aircraft, he says the MD-80 jetliner looked like a "popsicle." The malfunctioning nose gear disabled the plane's anti-icing systems, according to Mayer, who says the wings and tail of the plane were freezing over.
Back on the ground, Mayer says he called American's fleet manager and was assured the company was working on the problem.
CNN has learned that American's fleet of MD-80 planes has recorded 23 landing gear problems in the last few months; several have resulted in emergency landings. Pilots say the Fort Worth-based airline and the Federal Aviation Administration are not doing enough to find a solution.
The latest emergency landing happened in February when the landing gear of American Flight 862 would not retract after the plane took off from Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. The MD-80 with 138 people on board landed safely in Miami after spending two hours in the air burning off fuel.
That emergency landing was just the latest in a string of mishaps related to the front landing gear not retracting on MD-80 jetliners at American.
In a statement to CNN, American spokesman Tim Wagner says the airline has "identified the root causes of the problems and fixed them." American says it has identified "three separate issues with retracting of MD-80 nose landing gear, each of which was related to extremely cold temperatures and precipitation."
But the pilots' union says the problem is not strictly a cold weather issue, since it's happening on planes such as the one in Florida when the same landing gear problem occurred.
According to Wagner's statement, "We have had no similar issues in well over a month. Our fleet of 300 MD-80s departed on more than 150,000 flights in the last five months, and the landing gear retracted perfectly on 99.9999 percent of those flights."
Those remarks are little consolation to Mayer, who says the landing gear problem almost became a disaster.
"There was the potential for a catastrophic incident. No doubt about it," he says.
American does not dispute that it has had issues on MD-80s, but the airline said pilots are in contract talks and "certain misinformation" has been shared with the media.
The pilots' union says any fix could be costly to the airline and that leaking information to the press gives the union no advantage in its contract negotiations.
The FAA says it's aware of cases in which landing gear on American MD-80s has failed to retract properly, but the agency in a statement says it had "determined that there was no safety concern."
Critics say these incidents point to a bigger problem with oversight of maintenance issues at the FAA.
CNN reported last week that the FAA was only now trying to fix a problem dating to 2004 -- shattered cockpit windshields on Boeing aircraft. Four major carriers recently have grounded planes because there were gaps found in the FAA-required inspections for other problems. In addition, Southwest Airlines was fined $10.2 million and an FAA supervisor was demoted, for allowing the airline to delay aircraft inspections.
On Tuesday, American grounded nearly 500 flights to perform detailed inspections and on Wednesday canceled another 1,000 MD-80 flights, leaving passengers scrambling to find ways to get to their destinations.
Airline spokesman Roger Frizzell says the inspections are technical compliance issues and are not related to flight safety.
Capt. Todd Wissing, a safety committee member with the Allied Pilots Association, says he's concerned the FAA isn't doing enough to police the airline industry.
Wissing said American, his company, is trying to save money anyway it can, including on maintenance. He says he fears airlines will only do what the FAA requires -- but says he's concerned it may not be enough.
"I think that if there's an attitude change to where we're just going to do what the FAA minimum is, I think a lot of airlines will probably start to adopt that," Wissing says. "We want to do more than that, and we feel that we might be moving in the direction that requires an FAA mandate to do something and we don't want to see that."
In a statement to CNN, Boeing, which makes the MD-80 jetliner, says it is committed to safety but offered no comment on MD-80 nose landing gear problems.
Todd Schwarzschild contributed to this report.
Air travelers, whose plans have already been disrupted by thousands of canceled flights recently, may face continued chaos in coming weeks as the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines expand their scrutiny of passenger planes.
The groundings at airlines like American, Alaska, Delta and Southwest resulted from a broader round of inspections, ordered by the F.A.A., to determine whether the airlines have complied with past directives to check airplane structures, wires, electronics and other components.
A second wave of audits began on March 30 and will continue through June 30. Laura J. Brown, a spokeswoman for the F.A.A., said it could not rule out further groundings. "We don't know," she said. "We find what we find."
That will do little to reassure travelers, who face difficulties switching to other flights because planes are generally flying full on popular routes.
The agency turned up new problems Monday, when nine MD-80 jets operated by American failed an F.A.A. check, prompting American to ground 300 planes. American canceled more than 1,000 flights on Wednesday, on top of 430 cancellations on Tuesday, while its fleet of MD-80s was inspected. American expects 900 cancellations Thursday, and the problem could spill over to Friday.
Airports hit hardest by the canceled flights were Dallas-Fort Worth International, O'Hare in Chicago and La Guardia.
Yoree Koh, 25, arrived at La Guardia on Wednesday to find her American flight to Chicago had been canceled, meaning she will miss an orientation at Northwestern University. "It basically ruined my week," she said.
Ms. Koh said she was advised by an American employee to return at 6 a.m. Thursday to join the standby list for a 12:40 p.m. flight. "I'm not holding my breath," Ms. Koh said.
The F.A.A. and airlines are responding, in part, to heightened scrutiny by Congress, led by Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who is a longtime activist on aviation safety.
Congress's stance toward the industry has shifted from benevolence after the terrorist attacks in 2001 to a more combative approach after a string of passenger disruptions and recent revelations about lax oversight.
Mr. Oberstar said on Wednesday that his criticism was "an effort to get them back on course, to being the gold standard in the world for aviation safety oversight and maintenance oversight, and to re-establish a safety mind-set and culture with the agency, instead of this coddling of the industry."
There has not been a crash of a big jet in the United States since an American Airlines plane broke up in flight over Queens in November 2001 "” a point repeatedly made by federal administrators and airline executives as proof that the air system is safe.
That attitude could be dangerous, however, Mr. Oberstar said. "Time passes, and ˜Oh, we haven't had an accident, and now we can be cozy and play patty-cake with the airlines,' " he said, describing what he fears could be the attitude of the F.A.A. "As soon as you do that, you lose the enforcement mind-set, and you lose the sense of the margin of safety."
Travelers are left to grapple with the twin "” and now conflicting "” desires to have an aviation system that not only is safe and quick to respond to concerns but also gets them to their destinations on time.
On Thursday, a Senate aviation subcommittee will meet to raise safety concerns, one week after a hearing by a House subcommittee into the failure by Southwest to stop flying 40 planes that had not been properly inspected.
The agency has recommended a $10.4 million fine against Southwest, whose co-founder, Herbert D. Kelleher, and chief executive, Gary C. Kelly, were questioned for hours by the subcommittee.
The prospect of such fines and of damage to public confidence is the motivation behind the airlines' widespread flight cancellations, industry experts said Wednesday.
"The overreaction is unreal," said a senior executive at one major airline, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the situation.
Mr. Oberstar's criticism coincides with greater scrutiny of a number of regulators and the industries they oversee, including Wall Street firms.
"There's always a concern that the regulator is too kind, or too controlled by the industry that they regulate," said L. Nick Lacey, the former director of flight standards at the F.A.A., who is now with Morton, Beyer & Agnew, an aviation consulting firm in Arlington, Va.
Last week, Mr. Oberstar conducted a lengthy hearing at which several former F.A.A. inspectors said they were told to overlook problems at Southwest.
On Tuesday, Mr. Oberstar and other committee leaders sent a letter to three senior F.A.A. officials, contending that they had tried to mislead committee members in their testimony about the procedures followed in delivering notices to airlines of a program meant to help the airlines interact with the F.A.A., called the "customer service initiative."
Committee members said they were angry that the agency used the term "customers" to refer to the airlines rather than the public. In addition, committee members said F.A.A. officials should have been overseeing the airlines and not making special trips to hand-deliver packets describing the program.
In particular, Mr. Oberstar said the officials played down the requirement to deliver the notices promptly, maintaining they could be sent within a year, when they should have been delivered within 60 days.
"We are deeply disturbed by statements you made under oath," said the letter, which was sent to Nicholas A. Sabatini, the F.A.A.'s associate administrator for aviation safety; James J. Ballough, director of the F.A.A.'s flight standards service; and Thomas E. Stuckey, who was manager of the flight standards division for the F.A.A.'s Southwest region.
Mr. Stuckey had been in charge of dealing with airlines including Southwest and American. He has since been reassigned by the F.A.A.
The letter stunned some airline officials, both because of its tone and because of the rank of the three administration officials, especially Mr. Sabatini. "My people are mortified over this," the senior airline executive said.
Mr. Sabatini is scheduled to testify on Thursday at the Senate aviation safety hearing.
The Congressional scrutiny comes at a crucial point for the F.A.A.'s acting administrator, Robert A. Sturgell, whose confirmation by the Senate is in doubt.
The airlines' treatment is a sharp contrast to the assistance that was swiftly offered by Congress to the airlines in the weeks after the September 2001 attacks, which involved four aircraft from American and United.
Congress granted the airlines $5 billion in immediate cash assistance and $10 billion in federally backed loans. Despite the assistance, six major airlines sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and have since reorganized, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs and cutting hundreds of flights.
Still, former F.A.A. officials say there has long been concern over the warmth between agency inspectors and the airlines they are charged to investigate.
On one hand, the flying public can be helped if inspectors are thoroughly familiar with an airline's record. But such familiarity can also cause inspectors to give an airline some breaks, one official said.
Some passengers have been left roaming airports, stranded between connecting flights.
Evelyn Allen, a Durham, N.C., school bus driver, was trying to return home Tuesday after a visit with relatives in Lake Charles, La. But upon arriving at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, she learned her flight to Raleigh-Durham had been canceled.
American paid for a hotel room, but she could not retrieve her checked luggage and still did not have a flight home on Wednesday, said Ms. Allen, 37. "Maybe I'll be home by the weekend," she said.
Mr. Lacey, the former head of flight standards at the F.A.A., said he was not surprised to see Congress step up its scrutiny. He said the situation reminded him of the oversight efforts in 1999 and 2000, when a spike in consumer complaints prompted members of Congress to push for a passengers' bill of rights.
"It's a recurring story," Mr. Lacey said.
Midwest cancels flights involving MD-80 aircraft
MILWAUKEE (AP) "” Midwest Airlines has grounded 13 of its airplanes to re-inspect a wiring harness that caused American Airlines to cancel more than 2,400 flights since Tuesday.
Midwest Airlines voluntarily canceled all of its flights involving the Boeing MD-80 aircraft to make sure the wiring component is in compliance with a recent Federal Aviation Administration directive.
FAA inspectors have been conducting stepped-up surveys of airline compliance with safety rules this week. It warned American Airlines that nearly half its planes could violate a safety regulation designed to prevent fires.
Midwest spokesman Mike Brophy says the airline's MD-80s passed FAA inspection, but Midwest executives decided the planes should be re-inspected by the airline's own personnel.
At least 10 Midwest flights were canceled by Thursday morning, but the airline could not say how many more might be affected.
It's about time the FAA does it job.
The more things change, the more they stay the same...
Isn't that the truth, Falkinn! Good to hear from you.
Plenty of blame to fly around
CANCELED FLIGHTS | FAA, airlines share responsibility for letting maintenance issue turn into fiasco
April 12, 2008
BY LEWIS LAZARE
More than 300,000 travelers were left stranded by American Airlines in one week -- waiting at airport ticket counters around the nation for hours to speak to customer service agents to find out how, when, even whether they would reach their destination.
All these displaced fliers seemed more than a little befuddled by their plight, even as aviation consultants warned of plenty more flight cancellations in the weeks and months ahead as the red-faced Federal Aviation Administration suddenly starts playing hardball with domestic airlines on the matter of safety.
Airline CEO takes blame as some point to FAA
But as the headlines screamed about the possibility of more bad news, fliers could only ask: Who's at fault? Should they blame American Airlines, the world's largest carrier, for taking hundreds of MD-80 aircraft out of service in the past week to repair wire bundles in the wheel wells and ensure that the aircraft were in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration directives? Or was it the FAA, which has been under blistering scrutiny in recent days by a congressional panel convened to examine the agency's oversight -- or lack of scrutiny -- of the airlines?
Neither AA nor the FAA was making it any easier for travelers to figure out where to point the finger. Both simply reiterated it was important for American to be in compliance. OK, but why now and not 18 months ago, when concerns about the wheel wiring first surfaced?
Safety had taken backseat
In truth, both the FAA and American are to be faulted for what has quickly turned into an horrendous public relations problem for AA (and, by association, all airlines) and for the FAA, which, as Senate testimony suggested, had over the past several years been more focused on developing a cozy relationship with the airlines than on ensuring aircraft safety. It was a cozy relationship that made life easier for FAA inspectors and apparently gave American more latitude in its safety inspections than was prudent.
American was but the latest of several airlines to undertake sudden safety checks the past few weeks. First came Southwest, which wasted no time grounding more than 40 planes to make emergency inspections after FAA whistleblowers said safety inspectors hadn't done their job. And thousands of customers of Southwest -- generally credited with top-notch service -- contended with scores of canceled flights. Suddenly, other airlines, including Delta and United, came forward to announce new safety checks and canceled flights.
None of what happened the past several weeks came close to matching the massive disruption when American Airlines grounded 300 planes. But the FAA -- its extraordinarily dirty laundry on display -- nonetheless stood by and watched American do just that. And American -- not wanting at any cost to appear cavalier about the safety of its airplanes and its passengers -- had no choice but to make a very public and very costly move to demonstrate it would never compromise customers' safety.
Industry in a rough patch
Now that the damage has been done, the FAA, American and the flying public are left to figure out how to move forward. With oil prices surging above $100 a barrel, fare surcharges kicking in almost daily now and the string of bankrupt carriers growing longer (Frontier Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday night but vowed to keep flying), the future hardly looks rosy for the commercial aviation industry.
Given what a confusing tangle of "he said, she said" talk has come down from both American and the FAA in recent days, the public may never know who to hold responsible for this latest aviation nightmare. But it is certain that the public's patience has been tested to the max.
Older Jets Most Affected by FAA Scrutiny
Sunday April 13, 7:49 pm ET
By Dan Caterinicchia, AP Business Writer
Airlines With Older Fleets Face Increased Scrutiny Under Federal Audit of Maintenance Records
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rigorous airline maintenance audits recently ordered by federal regulators are likely to yield the most headaches for travelers flying Northwest, American and United airlines.
Those carriers have the oldest fleets, on average. The older the jet, the more likely it requires time-consuming, and potentially flight-grounding, government-ordered inspections, analysts and regulators agree.
"Older planes will usually have more (airworthiness directives) simply because they've been around longer," said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr.
Northwest Airlines Corp.'s fleet of roughly 350 planes has the oldest average age at nearly 18 years old, followed by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines at 15 years, and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines at 13, according to the companies' most recent annual reports.
"We don't have any concerns related to the age of the fleet," said Northwest spokeswoman Tammy Lee, adding that the carrier is retiring about 10 of its oldest aircraft this year.
Northwest is well positioned to pass the current review, having gone through a rigorous FAA maintenance oversight process after a mechanics strike in 2005, Lee said. Showing compliance with this FAA audit is "a voluminous process ... (but) a procedural issue and record-keeping issue," she said.
Reports of shorted wires, evidence of worn-down power cables, and fuel system reviews conducted by the manufacturer, Boeing Co., led to the airworthiness directive on the MD-80 aircraft that were grounded last week by American, Alaska Airlines and other carriers, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of travelers. That government order carried an effective date of Sept. 5, 2006, and airlines had 18 months to comply.
The first round of FAA audits over a two-week span last month -- prompted by revelations that Southwest Airlines Co. flew dozens of planes that had missed inspections -- checked 10 airworthiness directives that apply to each carrier's fleet. The second phase, which runs through June 30, will check 10 percent of the orders that apply to each airline's fleet.
American, which operates many different aircraft, said it was working to comply with about 180 different directives, according to its annual report filed in February. Northwest and United did not specify the amount. The FAA does not have an accurate count of how many apply to each carrier's fleet, Dorr said.
"We have no concerns about the age of our fleet in regards to maintenance," American spokesman Tim Wagner said in an e-mail Friday. "Our only concern about the age of our fleet, our MD-80s in particular, is that they are less fuel efficient than some of the more modern airplanes," which is why the carrier is taking delivery of some new Boeing 737-800s earlier than expected.
The nation's largest carrier canceled another 200 flights Saturday morning before returning all of its 300 grounded jets to service, bringing the total number of cancellations last week to nearly 3,300. The average age of American's MD-80s average 18 years old, Wagner said.
To be fair, flying on U.S. airlines has never been safer. The last U.S. crash of a jumbo jet was in November 2001, when an American Airlines flight plummeted into a New York City neighborhood, killing 265 people.
"We don't have old planes in the air," said Harlan Platt, a finance professor at Northeastern University in Boston who follows corporate turnarounds. The age of plane refers to the fuselage, while most of the parts are replaced every three to seven years, he added.
But as government scrutiny of safety procedures rises, flight delays and cancellations could get worse, particularly for carriers with older fleets, said Bob Harrell of New York-based travel and aviation consulting firm Harrell Associates. About 35 percent of the U.S. fleet is more than 25 years old, according to the International Air Transport Association.
United last month said it will ground and sell back to lessors 15 to 20 older aircraft that are less fuel-efficient than others in its 460-plane fleet. Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the nation's second largest carrier, said Friday, "Our primary responsibility is the safety of our customers and our employees, and there is no obligation we take more seriously."
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer
34 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration is going to begin alerting its top headquarters officials when field inspectors miss airline safety inspections, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Friday.
Peters also demanded that the FAA and American Airlines explain to her within 14 days why 250,000 U.S. air travelers endured canceled flights last week. American grounded its MD-80 jetliners and canceled 3,100 flights in order to inspect or redo wiring that was supposed to have been completed between Sept. 5, 2006, and March 5, 2008.
"No one at all was well served by what happened last week," Peters told a news conference outside FAA headquarters.
She said she didn't think federal regulators had overreacted in the wake of revelations about the FAA's lax supervision of Southwest Airlines. Last month, it was revealed that the FAA allowed Southwest to fly dozens of Boeing 737s without inspecting them as required for fuselage cracks and that Southwest's system for complying with FAA safety directives had not been inspected by the FAA since 1999.
But Peters wanted to know "why so many aircraft had to be grounded and so many travelers had to be inconvenienced" in order to "help us avoid similar disruptions" as the FAA completes an audit of all major airlines' compliance with safety directives. The audit was ordered after the Southwest debacle came to light and helped uncover the MD-80 wiring problems.
Flanked by acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell, Peters announced a series of steps to improve safety in a system she insisted was already the safest in history:
_FAA is setting up a national safety inspection review team to examine airlines for problems mostly likely to occur and in a comprehensive way.
_FAA will begin requiring senior field office officials to sign off on voluntary safety disclosures by airlines. These voluntary disclosures must show the immediate problem has been fixed and steps have been taken to ensure it won't recur. In return, the airlines will avoid penalties for the safety problems.
_The FAA general counsel and Transportation officials will begin meeting with airlines to be sure they have plans for accommodating passengers if there are future mass aircraft groundings.
_Peters named five outside aviation and safety experts to recommend improvements for the whole system within 120 days.
"This plan appears to address some of the main problems that created the current safety crisis," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "But the question remains: Will the FAA devote the resources and manpower to get it done right?"
Many of the steps had been recommended by Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III, particularly the new system to alert top headquarters officials when safety inspections fall behind schedule. Scovel concluded in a highly critical report that the FAA had "developed an overly collaborative relationship" with Southwest.
The lack of headquarters supervision of inspections was evident when Sturgell was unable to give a number when asked how many inspections were currently overdue, but he said the new alert system would remedy that.
Sturgell also denied that the audit of all carriers represented a new, tougher approach by his agency. "This is not a crackdown; it's not getting tough," Sturgell said, but rather an attempt to verify the system is working effectively. He reinforced that by noting that during the audit the FAA had given nine different airlines approval for 14 different alternate methods of complying with FAA safety orders, including on the wiring problem.
Peters did not address Scovel's recommendations that FAA come to better grips with massive retirements and resignations among its air traffic controllers and safety inspectors. Scovel noted that controllers-in-training now comprise 25 percent of the controller work force, compared with 15 percent in 2004, and that half of its safety inspectors are eligible to retire in the next five years.
"The real problem is there aren't enough FAA inspectors to keep tabs on the burgeoning number of outsourced maintenance facilities," said Teamster Union President Jim Hoffa, "especially overseas where foreign repair stations don't have to meet the same standards as U.S. facilities do." He called Peters' plan "window dressing."
The FAA had already announced it would adopt one Scovel recommendation: lengthening the "cooling off period" before former FAA inspectors can work for an airline they used to oversee or interact with the agency.
Peters emphasized that since the late 1990s the death rate in commercial aviation has dropped from 45 for every 100 million people flown to a record low five-to-eight deaths per 100 million flown. But she said, "A good system can always be made better," and asked her panel of outside experts to help do that.
The panel includes J. Randolph Babbitt, former president of the Air Line Pilots Association; William O. McCabe, former Director of Aviation DuPont and member of the National Business Aviation Association safety committee; Malcolm K. Sparrow, a professor of public management at Harvard; Edward W. Stimpson, U.S. representative under President Clinton on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization; and Carl W. Vogt, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
"We fully support the formation of the commission," said John Meenan, executive vice president of the Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines.
Hey Barb, I've long criticized the FAA was more interested in Dollars than they were lives, I read an article at work yesterday that seems to confirm that suspicion.
Here's a link, but you need a subscription for the whole article, I posted it here tho.
FAA Covered Up Near-Collisions
Even After Warning
By CHRISTOPHER CONKEY
April 25, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration said managers covered up a series of near-collisions of planes over Dallas -- even after officials promised to eliminate such problems.
A forthcoming report by the Transportation Department's inspector general says FAA managers in the Dallas air-traffic-control facility intentionally misclassified controller mistakes to make them look like pilot errors. The mistakes allowed the planes to fly dangerously close together.
"We're not going to stand for this," said acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell.
The inspector general hasn't released the report, which has been supported by the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel, but FAA officials disclosed some findings at a press conference. They also said two managers at the Dallas facility had been removed from their jobs.
Mistakes made by air-traffic controllers that result in near-collisions and other "separation losses" are supposed to be immediately reported, classified by severity and entered into an agency database, where they are used to identify emerging safety problems and prevent future mistakes.
But Transportation's inspector general and others have long said the FAA's approach discourages controllers from reporting such errors. One of the worst recent examples came to light in 2005 when the inspector general's office concluded there was a long-running conspiracy to suppress the reporting of errors at the same Dallas facility.
FAA officials promised to fix the issue at the time. But between November 2005 and July 2007, the forthcoming report concludes, managers misclassified 62 air-traffic events as "pilot deviations" or "non-events."
In reality, the report says, 52 of the events were controller errors and only 10 were pilot miscues. A whistle-blower in the case, a controller supervisor named Anne Whiteman, also alleges that she was physically harassed by colleagues for voicing her objections.
Under current FAA policies, some controllers can qualify for bonuses based on a low rate of errors. The FAA said Thursday it would review that practice.
FAA officials Thursday substantiated the report's findings on the Dallas coverup but declined to comment on Ms. Whiteman's harassment charge. The agency has removed the facility manager and assistant manager of the facility, known as the Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Approach Control, and said other personnel moves may occur. The FAA also said it has started making unannounced on-site audits of the facility in an attempt to ensure compliance with error-reporting requirements.
Hank Krakowski, the chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, which manages control towers and other facilities, called the report "deeply disturbing" and said the agency failed to heed the inspector general's recommendations back in 2005.
"We failed as an organization in exercising those commitments to the inspector general," he said.
In a statement, Special Counsel Scott Bloch said, "I continue to be concerned about a national trend both in suppression of errors by air-traffic controllers, as well as suppression of safety inspector's findings of deviations from airworthiness directives. These problems exist because of a culture of complacency and coverup in FAA."
The conspiracy, and the agency's failure to eliminate it after the inspector general initially reported the problem, are increasing pressure on FAA officials at a time when they already are under enormous criticism over regulatory lapses relating to airline maintenance.
Multiple federal probes are focusing on how Southwest Airlines Co. was allowed to fly jets that were overdue for safety inspections. Many lawmakers and critics also say the agency overreacted to the Southwest disclosure by forcing AMR Corp.'s American Airlines to cancel thousands of flights this month over a technicality that didn't pose a serious safety risk.
At a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs one of the main subcommittees overseeing the agency, suggested the FAA's top safety official, Nicholas Sabatini, should resign.
Other Democrats have questioned whether Mr. Sabatini committed perjury in recent congressional testimony, and New Jersey's two Democratic senators are holding up the nomination of Mr. Sturgell to serve a five-year term as FAA administrator, in part over the recent safety issues.
The FAA Thursday voiced support for its top officials and said Mr. Sabatini has spoken truthfully in testimony. The agency didn't make Mr. Sabatini available for questions Thursday. Instead, Mr. Krakowski, who joined the agency just last year, conducted a meeting with reporters in which he took blame and vowed to make changes.
As they did with the Southwest incident, FAA officials Thursday portrayed the Dallas error-reporting cover up as an isolated incident. Critics dismissed that contention.
Patrick Forrey, president of the main union representing the FAA's controllers, called the Dallas episode a "classic coverup by FAA management, which is desperate to hide information from the public at all costs."
The agency also said it will accelerate the rollout of an electronic system that can be used to determine when errors occur, and it is stripping local and regional officials of some of their authority to classify errors.
"¢ The News: The FAA admitted that employees in Dallas covered up air-traffic-control mistakes that led to a series of close calls in the sky.
"¢ The Background: The revelations are another embarrassing blow to the agency, which is criticized as having a culture that discourages employees from voicing safety concerns.
"¢ What's Next: A forthcoming report will detail the Dallas episode. Meanwhile, other investigations are continuing and the FAA is overhauling how it identifies and classifies controller errors.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Murray, that's an excellent article. Thanks for taking the time to post it. Unreal. I hope they are really going to do something about this and not just let it go back to what it was, but I'm pretty skeptical. It's good to see this stuff exposed for a change.
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