Southwest Airlines is facing a $12-million fine after air safety regulators said the airline didn't comply with maintenance regulations on its Boeing 737 jetliner fleet.
The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing the civil penalty against Southwest. It would be the second-largest fine in FAA history.
Since 2006, the agency said in a statement, the airline and its contractor, Aviation Technical Services based in Everett, Wash., have broken rules related to maintenance work while conducting an "extreme makeover" on the aluminum skins of some planes. Two of the planes with known maintenance problems were used for more than 20 passenger flights before the issues were fixed, the agency said.
The agency says that Southwest and its contractor were doing the work on the fuselage skins of 44 airplanes to prevent them from cracking. The FAA said the violations were that:
- Workers applied sealant underneath new skin panels, but then didn’t install all of its fasteners in time for the sealant to be effective, the agency said in a statement. This could cause gaps between the skin and the plane surface, eventually leading to possible corrosion, the FAA said.
- Contractors didn’t properly place the planes on jacks or stabilize them while work was being done, leaving the frame vulnerable to shifts that could lead to problems later.
- On the two planes used for 20 flights, Southwest had failed to comply with an FAA directive requiring the airline to install equipment to address lightning strikes on some components.
"Safety is a top priority, and that means holding airlines responsible for the repairs their contractors undertake," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility to ensure the safety of our transportation system."
In a statement, Southwest Airlines said the agency's letter includes repair issues "that were addressed several years ago."
"Having fully resolved the repair issues some time ago, none of the items raised in the FAA letter affect aircraft currently being operated," the airline said. "Safety is paramount and we always strive for full compliance with established and approved processes and procedures."
The airline says it's committed to "enhancing" internal procedures and oversight of repair vendors. The company said it would respond to the FAA's allegations.
It has 30 days to respond to the proposed penalty.