FAA inspectors given May 30 deadline on American Airlines


Oct 30, 2006
FAA inspectors given May 30 deadline on American Airlines
11:33 a.m. 04/22/2008 Provided by

WASHINGTON, Apr 22, 2008 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- FAA inspectors overseeing American Airlines have been given until May 30 to complete 19 overdue inspections of the carrier, the latest sign that regulators are tightening supervision after lax oversight of Southwest Airlines was exposed.

The inspectors will be looking at American's manuals and programs to make sure they comply with federal regulations, not doing hands-on inspections of aircraft.

The decision follows criticism last week from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who pressed top FAA officials about long-overdue inspections of Southwest and asked them to check whether similar problems existed with other airlines.

An American Airlines spokesman said the work mostly looks at "systems and paperwork" and wouldn't interfere with the carrier's operations. American grounded 46 percent of its fleet earlier this month and canceled thousands of flights after inspectors raised questions about whether maintenance followed federal guidelines.

The inspections, which are unrelated to the earlier maintenance problems, "have a very low probability of impact as far as operations go," said Tim Wagner, an American spokesman. "We understand they'll complete them by the end of May."

Such "safety attribute inspections" of manuals and programs are required to be done every five years. Some critics have said in recent months that inspectors spend too much time performing paperwork audits instead of visually checking the way aircraft maintenance is performed.

The union that represents some FAA inspectors said the work would be time-intensive and require inspectors to shuffle priorities.

"With all of the ... constantly changing priorities, our inspectors are concerned that there aren't enough of them to handle the priority of the day," said Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for Professional Aviation Systems Specialists, or PASS.

Alison Duquette, an FAA spokeswoman in Washington, said the agency is looking at "any overdue inspections" but couldn't confirm specifics about American. The FAA has defended the way it oversees airlines and attributes a significant decrease in aviation fatalities over the last decade to its oversight model.

The overdue inspections include checking American's programs that monitor the weight and balance of aircraft; its use of airframe parts maintained by mechanics outside the United States; and its procedures for using deicing equipment.

Ms. Keller said that most of the inspections address low-risk issues and "were being put off in favor of more pressing issues." The items have been elevated in importance because of recent scrutiny of the FAA by lawmakers, according to PASS.

The FAA has been watching airlines more closely since fining Southwest $10.2 million in March for flying jets that missed parts of key safety inspections. At the time that Southwest disclosed the error, 21 key maintenance inspections were overdue, according to an inspector general's investigation.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III said four of those inspections still weren't completed.