Southwest Checks for Cracks

Government Regulation, Safety/Security, Southwest

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about what happened today, because it’s been covered by just about everyone. (I should say overdramatized by just about everyone.) In short, Southwest had to take 38 planes out of service to perform a 90 minute check to see if there were any fuselage cracks. They canceled a fair number of flights today (Wednesday), but they should be back to normal tomorrow.

The reason I’m not going to spend much time on this is because I just don’t know much about what’s going on. Southwest says that there was an “ambiguity” related to the required checks that they discovered last night when they were going over maintenance records. So, they decided to be conservative and pull the planes out immediately.

What was this ambiguity? If they self-reported the problem to the FAA a year ago, shouldn’t those ambiguities have been discovered then and not a year later? I said before that we need to wait before condemning Southwest as being unsafe. I still stand by that, because there’s a lot that we don’t know, but this “reinspection” of aircraft certainly does not help their cause in my eyes. I still tend to think that the FAA is going to come out worst of all here, but Southwest isn’t going to come out smelling like roses by a longshot.

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4 comments on “Southwest Checks for Cracks

  1. My beef is with the FAA’s handling of the self-disclosure process. As far as I’m getting from the reports, Southwest found the error, not the FAA. In the interests of collaboration and improving industry safety, Southwest disclosed this to the FAA, and the FAA has responded by focusing on punishment rather than ensuring the problem gets fixed industry-wide. I guess all the negative PR will bring enough attention to the issue for the rest of the industry to shape-up, but it also places a bit of an incentive on the next airline to not self-disclose.

    On a side-note, I’m tickled pink I’ve found this blog. Finally someone who understands how airlines operate (and how they should operate) is putting quality info down on a keyboard daily. All of your arguments are rational, (even when I disagree) which is not always the case in this industry. After being called an airline geek over and over, and always taking it as a compliment, I totally get your self-proclaimed airline dorkness, but after countless viewings of SNL’s ‘Geek Dweeb or Spaz’ bit, I have to stick with the Geek title. Pays better.

  2. Well, thanks Courtney. I appreciate all the comments from you as well, whether you’re a geek or a dork!

  3. I can only imagine that “ambiguity” = “we really never did the checks and forgot about it.” Whoopsie.

    What is really strange to me is that I get the feeling that checks are supposed to be performed every 4500 flights. With Southwest’s schedule that is probably about every 2.5-3 years (figuring 4-5 flights a day). At this point some of those planes have almost gone 100% over their inspection cycle, which is outrageous. I said before here and on my blog that I have no reason to believe that they are inherently unsafe just for missing the scheduled inspections; a calendar can’t decide the real world safety metrics of an airplane. But still, to be here 21 months after the first planes missed their inspections and having no clear indication of what actually is going on and where there are corners being cut is a bad, bad thing to have to deal with for them.

  4. This story goes a lot deeper that missed inspections and who found it.

    It appears that the Soutwest used it’s “Cozy” relationship with the FAA to circumvent and FAA inspector. This is what Senator Oberstar is talking about…

    Now the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into possible threats, made against a local FAA inspector who blew the whistle on the FAA and Southwest Airlines.

    Time to boycott Southwest !

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