FAA Proposes Two Civil Penalties Against Southwest Airlines

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposes two civil penalties totaling $328,550 against Southwest Airlines for allegedly violating Federal Aviation Regulations.

In the first case, the FAA alleges Southwest failed to properly inspect an aircraft that experienced a cabin depressurization. On May 13, 2013, a Southwest Boeing 737 lost cabin pressure during a flight from Boston Logan International Airport to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The cabin’s oxygen masks deployed and the aircraft made an emergency landing in Baltimore.

The FAA alleges that after the event, Southwest mechanics failed to complete a mandatory inspection to check whether the change in cabin pressure damaged the aircraft and to ensure used oxygen bottles were replaced. The airline allegedly operated the plane on 123 flights before completing the inspection on June 3. 

Additionally, the airline allegedly operated the aircraft on May 14 and 15 flights with two of the four portable oxygen units unserviceable. A minimum of three were required under the conditions of Southwest’s Minimum Equipment List (MEL). The MEL specifies what equipment may be inoperable during a flight, and a carrier cannot fly an aircraft with inoperable equipment unless it complies with the MEL. 

Further, the agency alleges the airline operated the aircraft on approximately 120 additional flights with a portable oxygen unit that did not comply with the conditions of the MEL. The FAA proposes a $265,800 civil penalty in this case.

In the second case, the FAA alleges Southwest failed to comply with Federal Aviation Regulations for accurately recording repairs in an aircraft’s logbook.  On March 18, 2013, the pilot of a Boeing 717 operated by Southwest Airlines under the Air Tran Airways livery reported seeing ice and water coming from the jetliner’s galley vent. Over the next few weeks, maintenance technicians replaced several components in an attempt to correct the problem, which was traced to a faulty component in one of the aircraft’s air-conditioning systems.

The FAA alleges that the airline failed to fully comply with its FAA-approved maintenance procedures, which describe in detail how to make repairs and then accurately account for them in the aircraft’s logbooks. The FAA further alleges that during the troubleshooting process, mechanics deferred making the repairs by improperly applying an MEL exemption to this particular situation. The aircraft was flown on several passenger-carrying flights before the issue was resolved. The FAA proposes a $62,750 civil penalty in this case.

Southwest Airlines has requested to meet with the FAA to discuss each case.