Spate Of Incidents Earns United More FAA Scrutiny


United Airlines has given its employees a heads-up to expect more FAA inspectors across all its operations after a cluster of incidents involving its aircraft. In the last couple of weeks United planes have been involved in a variety of mishaps, none of which resulted in any injuries. Most involved Boeing aircraft but Airbus products have also been affected and Sasha Johnson, the airline’s VP of corporate safety, said the FAA wants to have a look around. “They agree that we need to take an even closer look at multiple areas of our operation to ensure we are doing all we can to promote and drive safety compliance,” Johnson wrote in a general staff memo.

Among the incidents that have grabbed media attention in the last three weeks are a taxiway diversion, a wheel coming loose, a FOD-related engine fire and the loss of a piece of fuselage fairing on an aircraft. There have also been hydraulics and other maintenance issues. Most haven’t been out of the ordinary, but the unusual concentration and the heightened public awareness of aviation incidents in light of Boeing’s manufacturing controversy have focused more attention on them. FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told NBC last week he discussed the probe with United CEO Scott Kirby. “He’s concerned. I’m concerned. No one likes to see this spike of incidents,” Whitaker told NBC. “So we’re both doing our jobs to look at where those risks might be.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • You left a couple of details out.

      From Wikipedia… “He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and operations research from the United States Air Force Academy, where he trained to be an aircraft pilot, in 1989. He later earned his Master of Science degree in operations research at George Washington University… Kirby is married and has seven children.”

      Of course, if you judge people by how they dress on halloween, then you get things mixed up.

  1. Is the FAA somewhat at blame for insufficient scrutiny of United?

    Where does the FAA get the surge capacity to impose more scrutiny of United? Do they have employees sitting around that can be made available to do this? Or do other employees stop what they were doing to go do something else?

    Does the management of United get a free pass?

    • FLASH!!! As of 10am Monday, 3/25, I just heard Dave Calhoun has announced his retirement at the end of the year.

      You bring up a VERY salient question, Jethro. The FAA is pretty good at pontificating, pointing their fingers and assigning ridiculous levels of fines (that don’t repair the problems). They’re nothing more than bureaucrats able to do these things without recourse, oftentimes. They ARE culpable in these issues.

  2. Much of the problems appear to be related to aircraft based in or rotating thru the SFO hub. With the exception of the taxiway excursion in IAH. I would focus intensely on the SFO maintenance operation. Also if I were king for a day I would force a rewrite of all part 121 MELs ! This time include Line Captains on the discussion of what an aircraft can be dispatched with and without ! You puddle jumper drivers would be shocked at the amount of equipment that can be broken and the aircraft still be considered “okay” !

    • You do realize you can defer a lot more items on a domestic flight than you can an international/ETOPS flight, regardless of the aircraft type? You might be “shocked” to see the radar deferred, the anti-skid deferred, the APU deferred, a pack out, and a generator placarded on one of those little puddle jumpers you refer to. Let’s see you fly all day with the anti-skid on placard.