The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeks $12 million in penalties from Southwest Airlines for improperly repairing its fleet of Boeing 737 jets, the agency said Monday.
The agency said that the Dallas-based airline contracted Aviation Technical Services, Inc. (ATS) to perform the repairs and that in three separate cases the company failed to follow proper procedures. Failure to follow strict rules for the repair and maintenance of aircraft could threaten the integrity of the aircraft and safety of passengers and crew.
Southwest returned the jetliners to service and operated them when they were not in compliance with federal aviation regulations, the FAA alleged. The regulatory violations affected planes used in numerous flights in 2009 after the agency put the airline on notice that the planes were not in compliance with FAA Airworthiness Directives.
“Safety is our top priority, and that means holding airlines responsible for the repairs their contractors undertake,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. The FAA noted that all of the work was done under the supervision of Southwest Airlines and that the company had the responsibility of ensuring the work was performed properly.
The FAA alleges that beginning in 2006, Southwest conducted so-called “extreme makeover” alterations to eliminate potential cracking of the aluminum skin on 44 jetliners. Investigators determined that ATS failed to follow proper procedures for replacing the fuselage skins on the aircraft, which were improperly stabilized during the work.
FAA investigators also found that ATS workers applied sealant beneath the new skin panels but did not install fasteners in all of the rivet holes during the right timeframe for the sealant to be effective. The agency said that as performed, the work could have resulted in gaps between the skin and the surface to which it was being mounted, potentially allowing moisture to penetrate the skin and corrode.
In the third case, the FAA said that Southwest Airlines failed to properly install a ground wire on water drain masts on two of its Boeing 737s, a safety violation that could have resulted in lightning strikes on the aircraft.
“The FAA views maintenance very seriously, and it will not hesitate to take action against companies that fail to follow regulations,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.