American Flew ‘Unairworthy’ Aircraft Says IG Report


The Transportation Department’s inspector general says the FAA allowed American Airlines to fly snagged and even non-airworthy aircraft without following up on whether repairs were made. According to an Associated Press report, the IG was generally critical of the performance of both the airline and the regulator in the new safety enforcement environment of safety management systems in which airlines are largely responsible for maintaining compliance and then reporting to the FAA. 

In one of the 185 cases examined by the IG, American flew an aircraft that was missing engine bushings and had improperly installed engine support struts 1,002 times with passengers before fixing it. The IG termed that plane “unairworthy.” Another aircraft flew for three years with an emergency slide that didn’t work. The FAA told AP it agreed with much of the report and was working on fixing the issues. American said it welcomed the input. “We plan to work with the FAA to ensure we take positive action and continuously refine and improve our safety controls.”

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.

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  1. I wonder how often this type of story boils down to some stupid paperwork issue rather than an actual mechanical problem with an airplane. It’s pretty rare that a regulatory body (or even an on-hand inspector) actually finds a real physical problem in the world. They usually just find paperwork gaps.

    • HI Dave,
      I suspect you are right. I retired from American 3 years ago and I can tell you that I never saw a mechanic or pilot knowing fly a plane that was not legal and safe.

    • Yes BUT in the two specific cases listed the parts/installations were not properly functional.

      AA in particular out to be aware of engine mountings.

      • Totally. This isn’t ‘you’re not current because you didn’t notify FAA for change of address’. This is complacency with potential for accidents etc.

    • I remember while working for a commuter airlines the mechanic did all the paper work for an MEL squawk but forgot to put his stamp in the box. Plane took off and landed 54 time and we received a $54,000 fine and news reported that we got fined for shoty maintenance

    • SMS are a guide/checklists, still need competent caring people.

      Signing out a DC-10 with flaps not properly rigged does not meet that, for example.

    • These repetitive negative references to the safety management system concept have become trite. Safety management systems are only as good as the maturity and integrity of the human beings which they serve. The degree to which safety management systems are successful is more of a reflection on personnel behavior than it is on the SMS concept itself. If SMS doesn’t work for you or your company, It’s what’s in the mirror that’s the problem.