ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (Reuters) – National safety inspectors have found evidence of "widespread cracking" and fatigue on the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that made an emergency landing in Arizona with a hole in the cabin, a government official said on Sunday.
"Was the aircraft well maintained and should it have been maintained better? That is exactly why we are here, to look at why this problem occurred," National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference broadcast from Yuma, Arizona via Internet streaming.
As a result of the incident, Southwest has grounded part of its fleet for inspections.
Discount air carrier Southwest Airlines flew thousands of passengers on aircraft that federal inspectors said were "unsafe" as recently as last March, according to detailed congressional documents obtained by CNN.
Documents submitted by Federal Aviation Administration inspectors to congressional investigators allege the airline flew at least 117 of its planes in violation of mandatory safety checks.
In some cases, the documents say, the planes flew for 30 months after government inspection deadlines had passed and should have been grounded until the inspections could be completed
Not boycotting them...YET! All the facts are not in.
My understanding of that particular plane is that it had major inspection (including major disassembly) in March.
Some Southwest Airlines planes are headed south of the border for maintenance.
In a reversal of an earlier decision, the Dallas-based airline is moving ahead with plans to outsource some maintenance work to a company in El Salvador.
A spokesman for the airline, Paul Flanagan, confirmed the move Wednesday, and said Southwest pilots would ferry the first plane to San Salvador sometime in early July.
Last year, Southwest put off plans to use the Salvadoran company, as the airline dealt with the fallout from FAA fines for failing to perform maintenance checks on planes that continued to fly. The airline eventually agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle the dispute.
The FAA originally recommended more than $10 million in penalties.
Many U.S. airlines already outsource maintenance to foreign countries. The company Southwest will use in El Salvador, Aeroman, has already performed heavy maintenance work for other major U.S. Airlines.
But, unions and consumer groups have objected to outsourcing, questioning the safety and oversight of work performed outside of the U.S., where mechanics are paid less than their American counterparts.
Last year, BusinessWeek reported that mechanics at Aeroman make between $4,500 and $15,000 a year, while U.S. airplane mechanics earn an average of $52,000 a year.
Southwest said it's confident that its new foreign maintenance provider is well qualified for the job. "They pass all or our really stringent tests for safety. They have a great track record," Flanagan said
Southwest says quality and turn-times on the lead aircraft of a new line of Boeing 737s serviced by El Salvador-based Aeroman are thoroughly justifying the airline's decision to move work south of the US border. "The fact that aircraft are coming back in the condition they are, the span and the labour plan, has done nothing but support our position in the first place," says Gregg Brown, manager of airfield frame services for Southwest.
Aeroman started performing Y checks in a single maintenance line for Southwest inJuly and the third Boeing 737-300 is close to completion. Y checks are performed every two years. Brown says the carrier plans to have four lines in place by the end of 2010, the maximum allowed by its contract with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the union which represents Southwest mechanics. He says four lines at Aeroman will represent about 20% of Southwest's outsourced maintenance.
Moving the work to Aeroman, though beneficial from a labour cost standpoint, was a contentious issue with mechanics. Louie Key, national director of AMFA, says the carrier first approached the union two years ago and proposed that some "customarily performed" work be included in the "non-customarily performed" work proposed for Aeroman in order to maximize efficiency. The union contract at the time permitted only non-customarily performed work to be outsourced. "We were not excited about giving consent to that," says Key. The discussion also revealedwhat Key calls a "gross misunderstanding" of the definition of the two types of work between the union and Southwest. Finally Southwest signed a contract with Aeroman in the first quarter of 2008, says Brown
Manager of Maintenance Control
When I meet people from other airlines, I enjoy visiting and talking about the way we at Southwest
Airlines approach our job. I find that people either are not very familiar with Southwest or that they are
familiar with our operation because they have flown Southwest. Quite often, people want to know if we
really have a maintenance department or if we contract it all out. We do have a maintenance department
to do overnight maintenance; we do our own B-checks, C-checks, quarter-Ds, and half-Ds. The only part
we contract out as is major overhauls which Tramco does.
By Elyse Moody/AviationWeek.com
Southwest Airlines now operates five hangars at Dallas Love Field.
Its 80,000 square foot, $18.5 million new addition, under construction since November 2006, is open and performing basic checks, a Southwest representative Dec. 4 confirmed.
Southwest's fifth hangar already has two aircraft in for A checks, the spokeswoman said, adding that it can simultaneously accommodate up to three Boeing 737-700NG aircraft with winglets.
Though Southwest does not plan to use the additional space to increase the amount of heavy maintenance it undertakes, the new hangar will increase flexibility at its Dallas headquarters, the spokeswoman confirmed. 70 percent of Southwest's heavy maintenance is outsourced to AAR, Pemco and Goodrich
Once again, what are other USA/North American airlines doing as far as the outsourcing of the inspections and maintenance of their 737s and other jet aircraft?
Until the 1980s, airlines performed their
own aircraft maintenance. Since then, these
companies have been increasingly interested
in trimming costs and reducing investments
in what is often seen as a non-core activity.
Consequently, more airlines are outsourcing
MRO work. MRO outsourcing grew from
approximately 30 percent in 1990 to 50
percent in 2000, and is projected to reach
around 85 percent in 2020. Component and
engine maintenance lead in outsourcing, each
with over 70 percent outsourced.
Today’s growth in outsourcing creates fertile
ground for MRO businesses old and new to
play larger roles. Major airlines that outsource
all or most of their MRO service today include
Southwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Alaska
Airlines and US Airways.
I don't see this issue as the 'smoking gun" - at least not yet.
(AP:YUMA, Ariz.) Inspectors have found small, subsurface cracks in three more Southwest Airlines planes that are similar to those suspected of causing a jetliner to lose pressure and make a harrowing emergency landing in Arizona, a federal investigator said Sunday.
Southwest said in statement that two of its Boeing 737-300s had cracks and will be evaluated and repaired before they are returned to service. A National Transportation Safety Board member told The Associated Press later Sunday that a third plane had been found with cracks developing.
The cracks found in the three planes developed in two lines of riveted joints that run the length of the aircraft.
Nineteen other Boeing 737-300 planes inspected using a special test developed by the manufacturer showed no problems and will be returned to service. Checks on nearly 60 other jets are expected to be completed by late Tuesday, the airline said.