Boeing Defends Southwest

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Boeing is leaping to the defense of its biggest customer, issuing a statement saying it agreed with Southwest Airlines’ plan to continue flying 46 older 737s that hadn’t been inspected for specific fatigue cracks. “In Boeing's opinion, the safety of the Southwest fleet was not compromised,” Boeing said in a statement released late Thursday, a day after the FAA proposed fines of $10.2 million against the airline. $10 million of that fine is to be levied for 1,451 flights conducted on the 46 737-300s after Southwest blew the whistle on itself for not carrying out the fatigue crack inspections during the previous year. After discovering the lapse in inspections and reporting it to the FAA, the airline reinspected the aircraft and found six with small cracks, which were repaired. However, the aircraft remained in service during the 10 days it took to inspect them and that’s what the FAA is so cranky about. "The FAA is taking action against Southwest Airlines for a failing to follow rules that are designed to protect passengers and crew," said Nick Sabatini, the agency's associate administrator for safety. "We expect the airline industry to fully comply with all FAA directives and take corrective action."

Southwest, perhaps with some justification, is pointing out that it discovered the error itself and moved to fix the problem as soon as it could. Before launching any of the 46 aircraft involved, it checked with Boeing to see if that posed a potential hazard. “Southwest Airlines contacted Boeing for verification of their technical opinion that the continued operation of their Classic 737s, for up to ten days until the airplanes could be reinspected, did not pose a safety of flight issue,” Boeing said in a statement. “Based on a thorough review of many factors, including fleet history and test data, as well as other inspections and maintenance previously incorporated, Boeing concluded the 10-day compliance plan was technically valid.”