Southwest disputes US gov't safety audit claims

Southwest Airlines[1] (WN, Dallas Love Field[2]) has disputed allegations made in a draft US Department of Transportation (DOT) safety audit, which said that over a period of about two years it flew more than 17 million passengers on numerous B737 aircraft acquired from foreign carriers with unconfirmed maintenance records. The Wall Street Journal first reported the DOT’s findings, which also criticised the lack of oversight of the airline’s safety procedures by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the Office of Inspector General and will continue to communicate any concerns directly with its office.

Any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is absolutely unfounded,” Southwest said in a statement. The carrier said that all of the eighty-eight B737s cited in the report, which were bought from 16 foreign airlines between 2013 and 2017, “have either completed a comprehensive physical inspection, from nose to tail, or are currently in the inspection phase.” It had “completed a thorough review of 75 aircraft and we are in the process of inspecting the remaining 13 aircraft which are currently in heavy checks.” It admitted that some repairs by earlier operators “had been performed but not properly classified by the previous owners due to differences in language and repair criteria.”

The FAA said in its own statement that after “learning of concerns about how certain aircraft were added to Southwest Airlines’ fleet, the agency took comprehensive action. In addition to actions aimed at ensuring the safety of the aircraft, the FAA appointed a new leadership team” to oversee the carrier. In November, the authority said that inspections of 39 aircraft had revealed repairs that had previously been undisclosed or incorrectly completed.

The DOT report also claimed that in 2019, a Southwest aircraft damaged both wingtips on a runway while repeatedly trying to land in gale-force winds. The FAA must now submit a response to the draft report, while the report itself will be released in a few weeks, an official told the Reuters news agency. Wall Street Journal journalist Andy Pasztor told National Public Radio that the DOT report came about from a process that “started about 18 months ago, actually from some whistleblower complaints”.

“Essentially, it’s a report that says the FAA is ineffective and inconsistent in how it supervises Southwest. There’s an example of a flight going into the airport at Hartford Bradley[3] in horrible conditions, gale-force winds, and it tried to land three times. On the first attempt, it smashed both wings on the runway.

And then it tried to land two more times, and the FAA was unable to get meaningful answers from Southwest for months about why these pilots did that. […] And that’s an example of the breakdown in the current system.” He added: “I think Congress will have a much different view of it, and I expect both House and Senate committees to look carefully at these results and push for some changes.” Southwest responded to a ch-aviation request for comment: “We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Southwest maintains a culture of compliance, recognising the safety of our operation as the most important thing we do. We are considered one of the world’s most admired companies and uphold an excellent safety record. “As part of our Safety Culture, we have a transparent relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes an FAA-approved Safety Management System designed to manage and mitigate operational risks and execute safe operating programs and practices.

Our operational systems are built to meet or exceed all regulatory requirements, and our Safety Management System is integrated into all of our operational practices in order to evaluate and continuously improve safety performance.

“The success of our business depends on the safety of our operation, and any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is unfounded.”

References

  1. ^ Southwest Airlines (www.ch-aviation.com)
  2. ^ Dallas Love Field (www.ch-aviation.com)
  3. ^ Hartford Bradley (www.ch-aviation.com)

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