The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $300,000 fine against American Airlines for flying an airplane with broken pitot probe heaters on four occasions. According to CNN, "Pitot probes are tubes mounted on the exteriors of aircraft to measure aircraft speeds, and the heaters prevent them from icing in certain conditions."
Mechanics initially thought the cockpit indicator light for the heaters was broken, but later learned the heaters themselves had malfunctioned. But because the problem was initially logged as a broken indicator light, the plane was flown several times with broken heaters before the actual issue was discovered.
American has racked up a long list of safety violations and fines lately, so many that even I'm having a hard time keeping up. Let's recap the various penalties and investigations from the past few months:
- March 15: $787,500 for several maintenance problems, including failed inspections and malfunctioning air data computers
- February 10: Estimated $10 million for improperly secured wiring that presented a fire hazard
- January 5: Investigation into three separate rough landings
Counting this most recent fine, that's upwards of $11 million in penalties in just a few months.
Now, I'm not suggesting American is slacking on safety, or that you should run, not walk, to any airline not named American. In fact, considering the recent investigation of the FAA's oversight of American, I think the only fair statement is to say that while this clearly reflects poorly on the airline, the spate of fines against American is at least partially due to loose regulation by the FAA. Regardless, I think most people—consumers and the airline itself—would love to see this parade of fines and violations come to a halt.
Readers, what do you think?