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FAA agrees it must boost safety oversight for Southwest Airlines, report says

PUBLISHED TUE, FEB 11 20203:45 PM ESTUPDATED AN HOUR AGO
Reuters
 
 
 
 
KEY POINTS
  • The report said the FAA has not “effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ systems for managing risks.”
  • The FAA said in a response included with the report it concurred with all 11 recommendations by the inspector general.
  • Southwest told Reuters Tuesday that eight of the 88 used jets remain out of service until needed repairs are completed.
 

GP: Boeing 737

A Boeing 737 800 flown by Southwest Airlines takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on March 11, 2019.
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says it should have done a better job of ensuring Southwest Airlines had certified completion of maintenance on 88 used Boeing 737 jets, as noted in a report by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Inspector General seen by Reuters ahead of its release.

The report, to be released on Thursday, said Southwest operated more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on 88 used Boeing 737 jets without confirmation that required maintenance had been completed.

 

The report said the FAA has not “effectively overseen Southwest Airlines’ systems for managing risks.” The FAA said in a response included with the report it concurred with all 11 recommendations by the inspector general.

The FAA has also come under scrutiny from lawmakers for its oversight of the newer Boeing 737 MAX jet, which was grounded last March after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.

On the separate issue of Southwest’s maintenance practices, the agency said it agreed its office overseeing the airline “did not perform in accordance with existing guidance” by allowing the 88 planes to enter service and that it “lacked a comprehensive conformity inspection for used aircraft.”

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Southwest Airlines under fire for planes with unconfirmed maintenance records
 

Southwest told Reuters Tuesday that eight of the 88 used jets remain out of service until needed repairs are completed. Southwest added it disagreed with some of the report’s findings, calling them “unsubstantiated references” to lax safety practices.

The inspector general’s report said: “Given the significant unresolved safety concerns that FAA has identified at Southwest Airlines, it is clear that the agency is not yet effectively navigating the balance between industry collaboration and managing safety risks at the carrier.”

 

It chided the FAA, saying the agency “accepted the air carrier’s justification that the issues identified were low safety risks.” It also said FAA’s laxity meant the agency “cannot provide assurance that the carrier operates at the highest degree of safety in the public’s interest, as required by law.”

The FAA noted it changed the leadership of its office that oversees Southwest and it “continues to address deficiencies in the work functions and culture.” The agency has agreed to ensure Southwest “complies with regulatory requirements that the 88 previously owned aircraft conform to U.S. aviation standards.”

Southwest said it has completed a thorough review of 80 aircraft “and the analysis of findings indicates very low risk, well within acceptable parameters per our FAA-approved Safety Management System.”

The report also said FAA violated its own guidance in addressing non-compliance by Southwest on weight and balance data. FAA agreed to ensure Southwest complies with requirements “to provide accurate weight and balance information” or to grant an exemption for non-compliance.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an article on a draft of the inspector general report.

On Jan. 10, the FAA said it was seeking to impose a $3.92 million fine on Southwest for alleged weight infractions on 21,505 flights on 44 aircraft between May 1, 2018 and Aug. 9, 2018.

 

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This will continue all over the industry.  We are coming full circle.

When the industry started down the path of less oversight and Safety Management Systems being internalized, it was only a matter of time before issues started to pop up.

While the theory is sound in principle, it relies on humans to manage it.  human nature being what it is leads to a failure of the system.  Familiarity Breeds Contempt.  Outside oversight is the only way to keep the airlines on the straight and narrow.

Don't get me wrong, there are companies that run internal SMS systems very well and take the system seriously but there are many that will slip and ultimately fall.

 

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Feb 11 report:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielreed/2020/02/12/southwest-airlines-faa-inspectors-safety/#78c3e7e72f94

DOT’s Inspector General Slams Southwest Airlines And The FAA Inspectors Who Monitor It, Cites Long-Standing Safety Failures By Both

 
Dan Reed
Dan ReedSenior Contributor 
Aerospace & Defense
I write about airlines, the travel biz, and related industries

The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s office issued a scathing report Tuesday heavily criticizing Southwest Airlines’ safety practices and culture. It also lambastes the Federal Aviation Administration’s own inspectors and leaders assigned to monitor Southwest for their lax and ineffective safety oversight of the airline that carries more passengers than any other U.S. airline.

The report includes damning comments about Southwest maintenance officials’ attitudes toward the FAA and toward inspectors’ safety concerns. Those comments come from unnamed FAA inspectors currently or previously assigned to the team that monitors Southwest’s maintenance operations and safety performance.

Southwest Airlines 737s parked at Houston's Hobby Airport

A new report coming from the Department of Transportation's Inspector General casts serious doubt on ... [+]

 GETTY

Among those inspectors’ comments included in the IG’s report is one describing Southwest’s safety culture as one that depends on “diversion, distraction, and power to get what the company wants.” Another comment from an inspector was that “Southwest’s attitude toward FAA appears to take the form of ‘I’ll respond to you when I damn well please.’”

Today In: Business

Southwest, which launched service 49 years ago as a low-fare, no frills carrier serving only the Texas Triangle (Dallas – Houston – San Antonio) is now, arguably, the most successful carrier in history. Though it retains much of its original no frills, low fare style, the Dallas-based carrier has become a very large and sophisticated airline while also being profitable 47 consecutive years. That includes last year when it earned a net profit of $2.3 billion despite being more impacted by the Spring 2019 grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft than any other airline. Of the carrier’s approximately 750 planes –all 737s – 34 are MAX 8s, the newest and largest version of Boeing’s venerable single-aisle workhorse.

The MAX version was developed largely to meet Southwest’s need for a larger capacity plane that still could be flown by every Southwest pilot without significant retraining.  Boeing’s efforts to upgrade the 737’s size and power without adding to its pilot training requirement, primarily to satisfy Southwest’s demands, created much of the pressure on Boeing executives to make decisions about the MAX’s design and training requirements. Now critics blame those decisions by Boeing leaders to do whatever was necessary to keep their biggest customer, Southwest, happy for the two deadly crashes that led to the MAX’s still-ongoing grounding. And that grounding, which likely will continue until this summer also has become the biggest corporate challenge in Boeing’s 100-year history.

The DOT IG’s report says:

 

  • Southwest operated more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on 24 used  737s it acquired between 2014 and 218 in an “unknown airworthiness state.” Specifically, Southwest did not obtain proper certification of those planes – previously flown by Chinese, Canadian, Argentine, Russian and Mexican carriers - and, in some cases, flew those planes without repairing or even discovering significant maintenance issues that would have disqualified them from service until repaired
  • FAA inspectors assigned to monitor Southwest signed off certification papers for some of those planes without performing actual inspections themselves and instead relied solely on the paperwork created by Southwest maintenance staff’s during their own initial check of those new planes upon their arrival at Southwest.
  • Of those 88 planes, 71 actually were certified by “FAA Designees” – airline employees authorized by the FAA to perform certain inspection-related tasks – not the FAA’s own inspectors. FAA rules require that in the case of a U.S.-built plane entering service with a U.S. carrier after previously being operated by a foreign airline that plane must thoroughly checked out and approved by the U.S. airlines’ own mechanics and/or an FAA designee. Then it must be passed on to an FAA inspector for inspection of the plane and its records before it can be certified for use by the U.S. carrier
  • The maintenance records and histories of some of the 88 planes acquired from foreign carriers were never or only partially translated into English, which is a requirement for those planes being certified by the FAA for use by U.S. carriers

 

 

 

  • Southwest failed repeatedly over at least a two-year period from 2017 (or earlier) to 2019 to address a widespread practice of significantly miscalculating the weight and balance data critical to an airplane’s handling and engine performance characteristics. The errors typically resulted from miscounts and transcription errors concerning the number of bags loaded and/or the location and weight of belly cargo given to pilots prior to takeoff
  • From early 2018 until August 2019, FAA allowed Southwest to continue reporting inaccurate and non-compliant weight and balance data based on the airline’s own determination that the variances presented little risk, despite clear FAA regulations requiring the accurate calculation of a plane’s weight and balance data
  • The FAA inspector in charge at Southwest believed Southwest never discovered the real cause of the weight and balance calculation errors but inspectors never conducted their own investigation in the belief that discovering the root cause of the problem was the airline’s responsibility and that the FAA should not be involved. However, FAA regulations require that its inspectors work with airlines to determine root causes of safety concerns
  • Many of the 88 foreign 737s acquired by Southwest were certified in one day, and in some cases put into passenger service on that same day. That process typically takes three to four weeks per plane.  The Inspector General’s report notes that the rushed certifications came in response to pressure from airline officials to meet its own timelines
  • Southwest officials repeatedly have used the certification of its “Safety Management System” as an excuse for failing to report individual or clusters of significant safety violations. Over the last decade the FAA has pushed carriers to create comprehensive Safety Management Systems designed to establish an “only safety” culture that does not subject airlines to punishment if they have such a program in place, self-report violations and move quickly to correct those problems
  • The FAA has never provided its own inspectors with the guidance needed to oversee Southwest’s Safety Management System, especially when the carrier attempts to use its Safety Management System to excuse or minimize the importance of specific or even widespread violations of specific safety regulations, or when it moves slowly to correct those problems and any underlying processes that trigger or contribute to those problems
  • Southwest’s position is that gusting cross-winds, wind shear and loss of pilot control upon landing approach do not present hazards significant enough to require extra pilot training. Yet after investigating an incident in February 2019 in which a Southwest plane trying unsuccessfully, three times, to land in high wind conditions at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut struck both wings on the runway, the FAA office overseeing Southwest was unaware that that had been Southwest’s position. In fact, it suggested that the carrier add such training, displaying its lack of awareness of Southwest’s training standards. As a result, the IG’s report says, the FAA missed an opportunity to reevaluate the effectiveness and accuracy of  Southwest’s risk assessment on the issue.

 

 

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Interesting. We sold 10 of our early direct-buys to Southwest a few years ago and they were absolutely stunned at how good a shape they were in, At that time they were buying up every used -700 they could find. I was at the facility where they being prepared for Southwest service and some of the equivalent age -700's I saw from southeast Asia frankly shocked me.

The Chinese -700's were taking around 90 days to prepare, the WJ ones were about 45 I was told. FWTW...   

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I'm not surprised, Mav. I spent some time with a guy who'd been doing ferry flights for leasing companies for a long time. He said that in general, Canadian aircraft are returned in better condition than those from most anywhere else except the UK. 

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