FAA Settles for $7.5 Million Penalty against Southwest Airlines

 - March 3, 2009, 10:19 AM

The FAA yesterday reached a settlement with Southwest Airlines that reduces the civil penalty it proposed to levy against the carrier on March 6 last year from $10.2 million to $7.5 million. The agency proposed the penalty after it found that Southwest operated 46 airplanes on 59,791 flights without performing mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking. The penalty could double to $15 million if the airline does not accomplish specific safety improvements outlined in the settlement agreement.

“This agreement furthers aviation safety by requiring important improvements to the airline’s safety program. Some of those safety measures exceed FAA regulations,” said FAA Acting Administrator Lynne Osmus.

The deal allows Southwest to pay the $7.5 million penalty in three installments of $2.5 million. The first payment is due within 10 business days of signing the agreement. The agreement requires Southwest to make two further payments no later than Jan. 15, 2010, and Jan. 15, 2011.

Southwest Airlines will pay an additional $7.5 million, if it does not accomplish 13 additional safety-related requirements related to personnel; manuals and procedures; company organization; and training, said the FAA in a statement. Inspectors will monitor Southwest Airlines’ progress on a variety of improvements for which the longest compliance time extends to one year. Examples include:

• Within 30 days, Southwest Airlines will increase the number of on-site technical representatives for heavy maintenance vendors from 27 to 35 people.

• Within 60 days, Southwest Airlines will allow FAA inspectors improved access to information used for tracking maintenance and engineering activities.

• Within 90 days, Southwest Airlines will designate a management head of quality assurance who does not have air carrier certification responsibilities.

• Within 180 days, Southwest Airlines will review its Required Inspection Item (RII) procedures to ensure compliance with FAA rules related to maintenance and identify more clearly all RII items on its maintenance work instructions, engineering authorizations and task cards.

• Within 365 days, Southwest Airlines will rewrite all FAA-approved manuals.