Analyst Says FAA Checks Had 'Nothing' To Do With Safety
There may finally be a (landing) light at the end of the tunnel
for American Airlines, stifled for days following groundings of its
300-plane fleet of MD-80 airliners for safety inspections. On
Saturday, FAA officials cleared the airline to return all but three
of the aircraft to service.
American spokesman Charley Wilson told The Dallas Morning News
normal operations likely won't resume until sometime Sunday, after
American repositions the aircraft from maintenance stations to
Still, news of the return of American's MD-80s will be welcomed
not just by the Fort Worth-based airline, but also by the hundreds
of thousands of stranded travelers caught in the middle between the
airline, and the FAA... which in recent weeks has cracked down on
maintenance practices at US airlines, after being caught
flat-footed by news Southwest Airlines continued flying planes last
year past mandatory fuselage inspection intervals.
As ANN reported, American
first cancelled some 500 flights on April 8, so the airline could
reinspect its fleet of MD-80 airliners to ensure proper stowage of
wiring bundles inside the aircrafts' maingear wells. Those checks
weren't quick once-overs... and by Friday, over 3,300 American
flights had been scrapped.
The airline first pulled planes from service two
weeks before to inspect the bundles, cancelling 400 flights in
the process... but when FAA inspectors return to the carrier's
Tulsa, OK maintenance center to check the carrier's work, they
found several planes still out of compliance with the 2006
Airworthiness Directive mandating a 1.25-inch clearance between the
wires and adjoining components.
Inspectors reportedly found bundles bound tighter than that spec
-- about a one-inch clearance -- on several of American's MD-80s.
That relatively minor difference has many questioning whether the
FAA's strict response wasn't politically-minded posturing.
In an interview Friday with Bloomberg, airline consultant
Michael Boyd openly questioned the motives of the agency, and
Acting Administrator Robert Sturgell -- saying the FAA was "playing
politics," in order to "look like they're tough" in the face of
"You've got hundreds of thousands of people inconvenienced, jobs
being threatened, and it's got nothing to do with improving
safety," Boyd slammed.
Regardless of where blame is ultimately placed, the episode has
done little to endear the MD-80 -- a catch-all term for the MD-82
and longer-legged MD-83 airliners that make up the majority of
American's fleet -- to passengers, or the airline.
Gerard Arpey, chairman of American parent AMR Corp., said
Thursday the airline may accelerate replacement of the relatively
fuel-thirsty MD-80s... but hastened to add that was only because
newer aircraft get better mileage.