FAA Proposes $5.4 Million Civil Penalty Against US Airways; $3.8 Million Against United Airlines


Hark! Today there is news of two proposed FAA penalties — and the news does not involve an airline based in the Dallas area.

Today the FAA announced that it has assessed a proposed civil penalty of $5.4 million against US Airways, and a proposed civil penalty of $3.8 million against United Airlines.

in the case of US Airways, the FAA said in a statement that the airline allegedly operated eight aircraft while out of compliance with safety directives or its own maintenance program.

In a letter to employees issued just a few minutes ago, US Airways COO Robert Isom wrote,

“It is important to remember that today’s announcement references situations that are in the past, and in several cases, date back to two years ago. This isn’t to make light of the findings or our corrections to those findings, rather it’s to say these occurrences are behind us, and today, we have improved upon an already solid maintenance program.

The FAA proposed civil penalty dates back to challenges we faced related to our America West/US Airways maintenance integration in 2007. The integration presented some challenges in the areas of inspection and records during 2007, 2008 and early 2009. Our team has worked cooperatively with the FAA to investigate and correct any discrepancies to the FAA’s satisfaction.

More specifically, over the past nine months, we and the FAA have completed a formal review of our aircraft maintenance tracking systems as well as a comprehensive review of our maintenance program. This collaborative process included efforts to identify the issues, drill down to find the root cause and develop comprehensive fixes.”

However, In the case of United Airlines, the FAA alleges that the airline flew one Boeing 737 aircraft on more than 200 flights after “violating its own maintenance procedures.” That’s the “official” language. In plain language, the airline apparently continued to fly a plane that had shop towels stuffed in the aircraft’s engine.

On April 28. 2008, a United 737 returned to Denver after shutting down an engine due to low oil pressure indications. During teardown of the engine a week later, United mechanics found that two shop towels, instead of protective caps, had been used to cover openings in the oil sump area when maintenance was done in December 2007. As a result of United’s failure to follow its maintenance procedures, between February 10 and April 28, 2008, the airline continued to fly the airplane on more than 200 revenue flights when it was not in an airworthy condition.

Wonderful. Shop towels?

As is the case with all proposed FAA fines, each airline will have 30 days in which to appeal the proposed fines. In the past, this would then be followed by a little horsetrading between the airlines and the FAA — in an attempt to lower the fine amounts.

Will be interesting to see how much these fines are reduced. Especially the United one. While the US Airways’ transgressions seems to be based on issues involving proper record keeping of the newly merged airline — the shop towel incident with United strikes me as a much more serious “safety” issue.