Federal Aviation Administration proposes US$24.2m fine against American Airlines

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Friday, August 27, 2010
An American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jet.
Image: Cubbie_n_Vegas.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday that it planned to fine American Airlines a record US$24.2 million for flying thousands of flights that had dangerous wiring.

Cquote1.svg We put rules and regulations in place to keep the flying public safe. [...] There can be no compromises when it comes to safety. Cquote2.svg

—U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

The fine far outstrips previous penalties, and stems from the carrier's failure to properly maintain and inspect wires bundled on McDonnell Douglas MD-80 airplane wheel wells. The FAA says that American Airlines flew 286 of the airplanes 14,278 times without upgrading the wiring which could, if sparked, ignite the nearby fuel tanks and explode the plane. "We put rules and regulations in place to keep the flying public safe. We expect operators to perform inspections and conduct regular and required maintenance in order to prevent safety issues. There can be no compromises when it comes to safety," U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said after the fine announcement was made.

American Airlines has vowed to dispute the planned penalty, and issued a statement saying that "American Airlines has always maintained its aircraft to the highest standards, and we continue to do so. We assure our customers there was never a safety of flight issue surrounding these circumstances more than two years ago." The carrier has 30 days to appeal the fine. Airline spokesman Tim Smith also said that "there was never a flight safety issue. These events happened more than two years ago and we believe this action is unwarranted. We will challenge any proposed civil penalty. We are confident we have a strong case and the facts will bear this out."

Cquote1.svg There was never a flight safety issue. [...] We will challenge any proposed civil penalty. Cquote2.svg

—American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith

In an Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA to American Airlines in 2006, the airline was ordered to upgrade the wiring on the wheel wells. To comply with the order, during four days in April 2008, American grounded their MD-80 fleet and cancelled 3,100 flights to inspect their planes, causing 250,000 fliers to be stranded or disrupted. However, in later inspections, government inspectors continued to find problems with the wiring.

The largest fine the FAA has ever imposed was a USD 9.5 million penalty in 1987 on Eastern Airlines, also for maintenance issues. The carrier went bankrupt after paying about USD 1 million of the penalty. The largest fine planned by the FAA was a USD 10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines in 2008. The airline later negotiated to reduce the penalty to USD 7.5 million.

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