In a curious illustration of how current events make strange bedfellows, the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has joined Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and NBAA to fight what they perceive to be causes of record-high oil prices. The two associations are members of the newly formed Stop Oil Speculation Now (S.O.S. Now) campaign, which includes airlines, trucking companies and travel associations. S.O.S.
There’s that old saying, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” And if ever there was an ill wind, it’s the one that has been generated by the price of oil and its effect on the airlines. But that same wind is bringing new opportunities to business aviation, with the prospect of expanded operations and the likelihood of added airplanes to the industry’s fleet.
Some $10.1 million in direct government aid allowed Midway Airlines to reopen for business December 19, but its days as a regional/national hybrid operating Bombardier CRJs alongside its mainline jets appear to be over.
The last few months have been difficult for a number of aviation players. First, there were several whistleblower complaints from FAA aviation safety inspectors who risked their futures to make serious allegations against their management in the southwest region. These allegations had been under investigation for some time when the U.S. Congress decided to hold hearings and have FAA senior management respond to them in a public forum.
The FAA has been under intense pressure from the U.S. Congress of late, and some believe that the reaction to Congressional pressure to tighten up FAA oversight of the aviation industry is a direct cause of the thousands of airline groundings last month.
After conducting an internal investigation, last month Southwest Airlines leaders switched from defending the airline’s maintenance practices to suspending three maintenance employees and grounding a significant number of airplanes to re-inspect them for possible cracks. The FAA issued a statement on March 6 proposing that Southwest Airlines pay a $10.2 million civil penalty for its error.
The FAA sent a letter to Southwest Airlines on Thursday, notifying the carrier that because some Southwest Boeing 737s were flown while not in compliance with an Airworthiness Directive, the FAA wants to assess a civil penalty of $10.2 million. Most civil penalties are negotiated to a lower number.
The FAA today said it planned to levy a $10.2 million civil penalty against Southwest Airlines for operating 46 airplanes that hadn’t undergone mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking. Subsequently, the airline found that six of the 46 airplanes had developed fatigue cracks.
Last month I participated in a panel discussion about maintenance of the airline fleet. For a long time the airlines have depended on certified repair stations to make repairs they couldn’t tackle because of a lack of facilities or required tooling.
The Air Transport Association (ATA) expects U.S. airlines to post a $3.5 to $4.5 billion net profit this year, following back-to-back net profits in 2006 and 2007. The past two years were the first consecutive profitable years since 1999-2000. According to ATA, whose members transport more than 90 percent of all U.S.