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Sat, Apr 12, 2008

As Cancellations Continue, American Airlines Offers Another Apology

Pilots Say Carrier Has Failed... Well, Pretty Much Everybody

"We anticipate returning to a full schedule on Monday." That statement Friday from American Airlines no doubt comes as little reassurance to hundreds of thousands passengers inconvenienced in the past three days, due to the cancellation of nearly 3,000 flights for emergency inspections of its fleet of MD-80 airliners.

In an email message to previous American Airlines customers, Marketing VP Dan Garton said the airline is really, really sorry for the trouble.

"As one of our most valued customers, please accept my apology on behalf of American Airlines to you, your family and your fellow AAdvantage customers for disrupting so many peoples' lives with the recent flight cancellations related to the inspection of our MD-80 aircraft fleet," the email missive states. "As you can imagine, American's decision to cancel thousands of flights this week was difficult, and it undoubtedly created concern among our best customers -- even those who had no travel plans during the period."

As ANN reported, American grounded its 300-plane fleet of MD-82 and MD-83 planes last week after FAA inspectors found prior checks for compliance with an Airworthiness Directive, concerning wiring bundles inside the aircrafts' maingear wells, had not fixed problems first discovered three weeks ago.

"In 2004, American Airlines was the lead airline working with Boeing to develop a Service Bulletin to correct wiring exposure and chafing in the MD-80 auxiliary hydraulic pump wire bundle," Garton said. "The concern was that exposure and chafing could cause fire in the wheel well. An Airworthiness Directive (AD) was issued in September 2006, giving MD-80 operators, including American, 18 months to address this issue. American completed the Service Bulletin in November 2006, followed by adjustments deemed necessary by American's structural engineers to comply with the AD well ahead of a March 2008 deadline.

"In recent weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration significantly increased its emphasis on monitoring the adherence to Airworthiness Directives that apply to various US airlines," Garton continued. "With respect to American Airlines' MD-80 fleet, we had a detailed issue that we believed had to be addressed immediately to remain compliant with the FAA; if found in non-compliance, we would have been instructed to stop flying our airplanes."

Garton adds the FAA's findings made it clear "there would be a high percentage of aircraft that would not be found to be in full compliance of the Airworthiness Directive."

In conclusion, Garton says American "will learn from this experience, and we will get better"... but members of the Allied Pilots Association, the union representing pilots at American, say that's probably unlikely.

In a full-page ad entitled "Why is American Airlines Failing Its Customers?" that ran in USA Today on Thursday, the APA -- already locked in a contentious battle with management over contract issues -- said no one is more disappointed in American's handling of the MD-80 crisis, than the carrier's own employees.

"This management team is driving reliability down to a point where it will drive customers away," APA spokesman Scott Shankland told The Associated Press. "These guys are damaging this once-great airline."

Not surprisingly, American Airlines spokesman John Hotard took exception to that position. "We're disappointed that any union would choose negative tactics in a direct attempt to harm the company," he said. "It's energy better spent strengthening the company."

'Negative tactics' or no, one thing is clear to disgruntled American Airlines passengers: someone screwed up royally... and when the dust has settled, someone's gonna have to pay.

FMI: www.aa.com, www.alliedpilots.org

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