Thursday, August 14, 2008

FAA Steps Up Enforcement Fining American Airlines $7 Million for Safety Violations

Federal regulators announced $7.1 million in fines against American Airlines on Thursday over maintenance issues and problems with its drug- and alcohol-testing programs.

"The FAA believes the large total amount of the fine for these violations is appropriate because American Airlines was aware that appropriate repairs were needed, and instead deferred maintenance," the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement announcing the decision. "In intentionally continuing to fly the aircraft, the carrier did not follow important safety regulations intended to protect passengers and crew."

American can still appeal the fines, the FAA said.

The FAA also found the airline maintained inadequate drug- and alcohol-testing programs and failed to inspect safety lighting on a "timely" basis.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier said Thursday evening that it disagreed with the findings and called the penalties "excessive."

"In accordance with FAA procedures for handling these matters, we have requested to meet with the FAA after we have had time to thoroughly review their findings, so that we may discuss the issues," the airline said in a written statement. "Since these matters are ongoing with the FAA, we will not have any further comment at this time."

Nearly $4.5 million of the proposed fines stem from American's continued operation of two MD-83 jetliners in December 2007 after pilots reported problems with the autopilot systems, the FAA said.

The two planes were flown a combined 58 times before the problems were corrected -- and one flew 10 times after an FAA inspector notified the airline that it had wrongly deferred needed repairs.

In one incident, the autopilot disconnected during a landing on December 21, the FAA said. "American technicians did not check for the actual problem, and instead deferred maintenance using an inappropriate MEL (minimum equipment list) item. The plane flew another 36 passenger-carrying flights during December 21-31."

The problem was later traced to a piece of radio gear separate from the autopilot, the FAA said. Meanwhile, a different MD-83 flew four flights without a fully functioning autopilot after American mechanics put off repairs.

Regulators also accuse American of operating planes without timely inspections of their emergency lighting systems.

In April, American canceled more than 3,000 flights to conduct inspections of wiring bundles in wheel wells of its 300 MD-80 jets, snarling air traffic for five days.

The FAA ordered American and several other airlines to examine the wiring, which had the potential to start fires or cause landing gear to malfunction.

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