Thursday, 25 March 2010

Federal Aviation Administration Gets Tough on Errant Airlines


Stung by criticism over its lackadaisical attitude towards airline safety, the Federal Aviation Administration is taking stronger action against airlines brazenly flouting safety procedures. This week, Northwest Airlines found itself at the receiving end of the federal agency’s ire. The FAA has imposed penalties of $1.5 million against the airline for failure to comply with an FAA directive that was issued -wait for this- 17 years ago.

The directive was issued in 1990, and required airlines to conduct an inspection of their cockpit windows, including the pilots and first officer’s side windows. Airlines were required to look for thin wires that could pose a fire hazard. When Northwest Airlines distributed its advisory, it neglected to mention that the first officer’s window should be inspected. As a result, that area was left uninspected in more than 30 airplanes. These aircraft continued to fly passenger flights, and in all, flew about 90,000 flights between 2005 and 2008, when the problem was discovered.

Northwest Airlines’ negligence doesn't end there. Even when the problem came to notice, the airline failed to immediately order inspections as it should have. Instead, it postponed the inspections to the next maintenance schedule.

The FAA has not taken kindly to this casual approach to plane safety by the airline. Northwest Airlines has been fined $1.5 million in penalties. The company insists that it did nothing wrong, and ordered the inspections immediately.

The FAA's action against Northwest Airlines comes just a few days after it imposed a fine of more than $780,000 on American Airlines, after that airline failed to replace a central computer on one of the planes operated by its regional carrier, American Eagle. That also comes after a massive fine of $7.1 million imposed against American Airlines in 2008, for a number of violations including operating flights using aircraft that had defective auto pilot systems.

For passengers and California plane crash lawyers, it is comforting to see the FAA not hesitating to impose heavy fines and punishments on these errant airlines. Hopefully, this is not a temporary phase, and the enthusiasm for punishing airlines for failures will continue.

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