WASHINGTON/DALLAS – A Federal Aviation Administration official wrote a memo last month saying that Southwest Airlines Co. should ground 49 of its airliners because repairs were performed that don’t meet legal standards.
There is “a high likelihood of a violation of a regulation, order or standard” of the FAA, and the U.S. regulator needs to take immediate action to revoke the certification of the planes, said H. Clayton Foushee, the agency’s director of the Office of Audit and Evaluation. The Oct. 24 letter was released Monday by the Senate.
The FAA wrote to Southwest days later ordering the airline to speed up inspections of the 737 NG planes, which were previously owned by foreign carriers. But it has stopped short of requiring that the planes be grounded. The agency said in a statement that a risk assessment had concluded the airline had taken appropriate measures.
The dispute within the regulator over the status of the planes comes as the Transportation Department’s Inspector General completes an audit of the FAA’s oversight of airline maintenance and as lawmakers assess whistle-blower claims that the agency hasn’t been aggressive enough. The FAA is also under fire for its approval of the 737 Max, the newest model of Boeing’s single-aisle workhorse, which has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes.
Sen. Roger Wicker, the Missouri Republican who is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, wrote to the FAA on Oct. 30 saying he finds the situation “troubling.”
Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly told employees in a weekly message Monday that it found that “a small number of repairs on a few of these aircraft” had been performed but not properly classified by the prior owners,. In some cases language or repair criteria were to blame, Kelly said.
“Our continuous assessments of the ongoing inspections has revealed nothing to warrant the expedited timeline,” Kelly said of the FAA action, but Southwest remains on track to have them completed by the end of January.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on whether the Southwest jets meet FAA standards.