FAA Wants $12 Million Fine Against Southwest Airlines

The FAA on Monday proposed a $12 million fine against Southwest Airlines for failing to comply with safety related repairs to some of its Boeing 737 jetliners. The fine is the second-largest the agency has proposed against an airline.

Previously, the FAA proposed a fine against American Airlines for $24.2 million in August 2010. ABC News reports that fine was settled for $24.9 million as part of the airline’s bankruptcy proceedings, though the final settlement included other safety violations as well.

The FAA announced Monday that beginning in 2006, Southwest made “extreme makeover” alterations on 44 aircraft to stop potential cracking on the Boeing 737’s aluminum skin. An FAA investigation into the repairs showed that Southwest’s contractor, Aviation Technical Services Inc. of Everett, Washington, failed to follow proper procedures.

All of the work was done under Southwest’s supervision, which was responsible for making sure it was completed properly. The FAA added in its announcement that Southwest returned the planes to service in 2009 and flew them even after the FAA “put the airline on notice that these aircraft were not in compliance” with safety regulations.

In its investigation, the FAA also found that Aviation Technical Services’ workers applied sealant under the new skin panels, but did not install fasteners in all of the rivet holes in time for the sealant to be effective. The agency stated, “This could have resulted in gaps between the skin and the surface to which it was being mounted. Such gaps could allow moisture to penetrate the skin and lead to corrosion.”

The Chicago Tribune notes that, in a statement about the fine against Southwest Airlines, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Safety is our top priority, and that means holding airlines responsible for the repairs their contractors undertake.”

A Southwest spokeswoman told the Tribune, “Safety is paramount, and we always strive for full compliance with established and approved processes and procedures.” The spokeswoman added that the incidents concerning repair issues were addressed several years ago. None of the allegations affect aircraft currently operated by Southwest. She went on to say that the fine is simply proposed by the FAA and the company will respond to regulators about the allegations.

The spokeswoman stated, “Southwest is committed to continuously making enhancements to our internal procedures, as well as improvements related to oversight of our repair vendors.”

Southwest Airlines has 30 days from now to respond to the FAA’s civil penalty letter and proposed fine of $12 million.

[Image by Dylan Ashe]