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Safety lapses may cost Southwest $10.2 million

Southwest is facing a $10.2 million fine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the largest fine in the agency’s history, due to lapses in safety checks in 2006 and 2007.

The airline failed to complete checks for fuselage cracks in 46 of its older Boeing 737s, and continued to fly for eight days after missing its deadline. Though Southwest voluntarily notified the FAA about the situation, safety officials now say those aircraft should have been grounded.

For its part, Southwest says it maintains a strong “Culture of Safety,” and Boeing had told the airline is could continue to safely fly the aircraft for a short period before the safety checks were completed. “We’ve got a 37-year history of very safe operations, one of the safest operations in the world, and we’re safer today than we’ve ever been,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly on Friday.

A recent congressional investigation has identified more potential safety issues at Southwest, and possible lapses at other U.S. airlines. “There is a strong likelihood that there were similar lapses at other carriers,” said Representative James Oberstar, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee. Government airline safety inspectors report that their findings of violations are often not acted upon by FAA management. “So many FAA inspectors have given up reporting failures by carriers because there is a cozy relationship between the FAA management and airline management,” Oberstar said. “That has to stop.”

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