WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it would fine Southwest Airlines Co. $10.2 million for safety violations that included knowingly flying more than three dozen jets without mandatory inspections for structural damage.
Southwest, which found cracks in the bodies of six of its jets during belated inspections, said safety was never jeopardized.
The fine would be the largest ever levied against an airline, the FAA said.
When Southwest belatedly conducted the inspections, it found cracks in the bodies of six Boeing 737-300s, with the largest measuring 4 inches. Serious fractures can depressurize an aircraft and in 1988 caused an Aloha Airlines jet to rip apart, killing a flight attendant.
The FAA announced the fine a week before congressional investigators were to disclose findings from their own inquiry into Southwest's failure to meet airworthiness directives. That investigation was prompted by information provided by Dallas-based FAA inspectors who said their supervisors allowed the planes to keep flying even after Southwest reported its failure to make the scheduled inspections.
The FAA doesn't come out looking too good, either. Regulatory capture, anyone?