FAA: American Could Face Huge Fine

Two major safety investigations at American Airlines are coming to a close. One, led by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is looking into improperly secured wiring on 290 MD-80 aircraft. The AP reports that "loose fastening resulted in damage to wiring in several dozen planes and, in at least a handful of cases, electrical arcing—a discharge of electricity that presents a potential fire threat." This loose wiring led American to cancel over a thousand flights in April 2008, which is when the investigation began. 

According to the AP, the FAA's fine could be in the neighborhood of the $10.2 million penalty levied against Southwest in March 2008.

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The second investigation, however, is of the FAA itself, specifically its lax oversight of maintenance procedures at American. The AP writes that the "Transportation Department's (DOT) inspector general is due to release an audit in the next several days that criticizes FAA for lax oversight of aircraft maintenance at American." The audit "involves allegations of maintenance problems at American, including aircraft landing gear that wasn't retracting properly and windshield heating systems that had electrical problems," and says union members contacted the DOT after complaints about the safety issues went unheeded at the FAA. Many of the problems appear to have been corrected, and the FAA reportedly submitted replies that agree with the audit's conclusions.

This makes the second report in as many days to claim loose FAA oversight as part of the overall safety problem. An ongoing investigation of maintenance violations at Southwest is, in part, a byproduct of a cozy relationship between the airline and its FAA regulators. And though it's not necessarily accurate to say loose FAA oversight led to the specific issues in the Southwest or American investigations, it is apparent that the FAA was not exactly strict with either airline over the past few years. It's fair to wonder, if not assume, if the same is true across the rest of the industry.

But the good news is that we are apparently witnessing a correction, and the DOT's audit of FAA oversights will be an eye-opener for certain. As for American, this would be the second major fine since 2008, when the FAA hit the carrier with a $7 million penalty for operating aircraft with malfunctioning autopilot systems.

And, of course, this would make for two major fines at two major airlines, at the same time. Does that make you feel safer, because these issues are being addressed, or less safe because they exist in the first place? And what about the FAA? Part of the problem or part of the solution? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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