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Sun, May 18, 2008

FAA Has More Questions For American Airlines

Carrier Says Agency Sent Mixed Signals On Grounded MD-80s

The Federal Aviation Administration has more questions for executives at American Airlines, concerning maintenance practices at the Fort Worth, TX-based carrier.

Last week, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the agency will meet soon with the airline, to investigate complaints from a JFK-based mechanic that American's revised inspection procedures for aircraft struck by lightning may be inadequate. Two AAL pilots have also raised concerns, though the anonymous Aviation Safety Action Program.

"Since it has been brought to our attention, we do plan to meet with American Airlines safety people to discuss the revised procedures," Dorr said.

An American spokesman wouldn't elaborate what change was made to the lightning inspection process to warrant the raised eyebrows, reports The Associated Press. Dorr stressed the meeting shouldn't be termed an investigation, per se... adding "there is no hint of any kind of any enforcement action" imminent against American for the change.

If history is any indicator, however... chances are American officials aren't buying those assurances.

On Friday, the airline sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, regarding last month's mass-groundings of 300 American Airlines MD-80 narrowbody planes. In the letter, American says the FAA sent mixed signals regarding the severity of problems with wiring bundles on the carrier's short-haul aircraft.

In the report, American asserts the wiring issues weren't severe enough to warrant cancelling over 3,300 flights. The carrier also notes the FAA said it was American's decision to ground the planes... but also says one FAA official told the airline "You need to put those aircraft on the ground."

In short, American says the FAA is to blame for the resulting scheduling chaos; the agency counters it was American's fault for not properly complying with a 2005 airworthiness directive... that American helped write, incidentally.

"American failed to take opportunities available before March 5, 2005, to inspect, repair and accomplish the [airworthiness directive], as required," the FAA wrote, adding the agency did not reach any sort of informal agreement with American for the airline to keep the planes flying through the inspection process.

That disputes American's claims... which, in turn, echo similar statements made by Southwest Airlines in March, after the FAA took that carrier to task for skipping mandatory fatigue inspections on its oldest Boeing 737-300s. Like American has now, Southwest asserted it had received permission from the FAA and Boeing to keep the planes in the air, performing the required inspections during scheduled maintenance breaks instead of grounding their fleets.

Despite the apparent disconnect, American adopted a conciliatory tone towards the FAA in its letter to Secretary Peters... suggesting the problem lies not necessarily with FAA back-pedaling, but rather with problems in communication between the agency and airlines it oversees.

FMI: www.aa.gov, www.dot.gov

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