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The southwest flies 38 aircraft that lack a definitive safety check



* FAA employee recommends grounding Southwestern aircraft on October 24th lacking adequate maintenance records

* FAA official recommendation to agency chief in memorandum released Monday by Senate Commerce Committee

* FAA Internal Memorandum Urgent Immediate Action Because Southwest Cannot Certify FAA or Passengers Who Planes Meet Safety Standards

* FAA Southwest Memorandum provided little or no oversight to the company handle recommending used aircraft from overseas

* FAA Memorandum states that the Southwestern Agency said that all foreign aircraft were properly checked before some necessary maintenance documents were translated into English

* FAA did not Southwest Airlines, after the carrier agreed to expedite the necessary checks and complete them by the end of January.

More to follow

Southwest Airlines Co.


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currently flies more than three dozen aircraft without being able to verify that they meet all mandatory federal safety standards, according to government documents disclosing and U.S. regulators recently considered grounding of aircraft.

Congressional investigators and the Inspector General of the United States Department of Transportation are stepping up to verify such issues related to the operation of used Southwest foreign aircraft introduced into its fleet over the years, according to documents and people familiar with the details. In letters to the Federal Aviation Administration over the past two weeks, the carrier indicated that it had previously discovered dozens of problematic repairs to other planes made before buying those planes. Problems include non-standard or incorrect fixes.

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The main problem in the Southwest is the grasp of the resulting lack of reliable documentation needed to verify that repairs, minor repairs, and multiple maintenance operations have been completed while aircraft have flown from their previous operators. Without clear documentation, neither the Southwest nor regulators can definitively verify that all safety requirements are met.

The difficulties of the Southwest in documenting the maintenance history of the aircraft used are unusual. Initially, the company believed that it had all the necessary backup documents, but later it turned out that some important documents were missing or incomplete, the documents show. Issues related to the documents prompted the company and the FAA to create a backup program for verification and verification, according to the documents. The carrier told the FAA that 50 employees evaluate 63,000 repair documents in 15 languages.

USA. carriers usually carry planes overseas, but in some circumstances they acquire foreign planes to fill gaps in their fleets.

The aircraft in focus are among 88 aircraft used, southwestern included in its fleet, totaling more than 750 aircraft, from approximately 2013 to 2017. The aircraft used were previously operated by carriers in countries including Canada , China, Russia, Argentina and Turkey. At the moment, 41 of these aircraft were inspected from nose to tail, their documents were checked and found to be in full compliance with all FAA rules and requirements. Another nine aircraft have been inspected.

The lack of complete documentation for the other 38 foreign aircraft attracted the attention of FAA inspectors and DOT inspector general staff. The Veterans Support Inspector first raised concerns in 2018, and the problem re-emerged this summer as local FAA executives heard more complaints from inspectors about lack of support documents, according to people informed of the discussions.

Recently, the FAA needs the Southwest to resolve outstanding issues, aroused the interest of Congress. The issue of undocumented support was highlighted in preliminary findings presented by FAA inspector general staff weeks ago, prompting the agency last month to take action and explain the situation to various House and Senate committees.

The FAA in late October threatened to land 38 of the southwest

Boeing Co.

737 aircraft are still awaiting comprehensive checks from the Southwest, citing potential risks "arising from undocumented or ineligible documents," according to a letter to the Southwest from the agency, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Dated October 29 and signed by John Posey, manager of the Dallas-based Dallas Office, which oversees the Southwest, the letter states that if the agency's concerns are not properly addressed, "the FAA may use safeguards up to and including grounding . "

The FAA must agree that the aircraft is safe to fly in the United States and that maintenance records are used to make that determination. On November 21 last year, after audits of some of the aircraft maintenance records raised concerns, the FAA briefly grounded 32 aircraft in the Southwest until certain inspections were completed, documents show.

Southwest responded to questions from the magazine by stating that it had fully complied with a long-term, improved verification program covering older 737 models acquired abroad, and that none of the discrepancies threatened flight safety.

In an email, a spokeswoman disputed that the FAA's letter posed a threat to land the planes. She said the FAA had requested additional information from the Southwest and that the carrier had followed the Agency's reassessment of top priority risks within the deadline specified in the letter.

In response to the FAA's October letter, Sean Jenson, Southwest's director of regulatory compliance, indicated that the airline was addressing the issue of a document, not a safety risk. The Southwest, he writes, is taking steps "to reduce the risk of regulatory non-compliance, not the increased risk to safety."

The Southwest told the FAA that each of the 38 aircraft had already undergone extensive regular maintenance since joining to the Navy airline.

"A small number of repairs were made to several aircraft but not properly classified by previous owners due to differences in language and repair criteria," said a Southwest spokesman.

At the end of last week, after discussions between senior FAA officials and the southwest, the agency allowed 38 aircraft to continue carrying passengers after the southwest agreed to expedite the necessary controls so that all aircraft would be fully inspected by the end of January, according to people familiar with the discussions. The previous deadline was July.

Relying on safety data and analysis prepared by the airline, the agency estimates that the risks of an accident or other serious problem are low and comparable to those identified on airplanes southwest that had been inspected by the airline earlier, according to FAA. These previously inspected planes were released to fly as they were subjected to a two-year special safety review, a backup and verification program launched in 2018, when Southwest first revealed to the regulators the shortcomings identified through the review of 88 aircraft. . [19659004] Recent arguments as to whether maintenance and repairs have been carried out and whether, whether they have been performed and properly documented, have not been reported previously. Are they both the Southwest and the FAA's fight against the downturn of the individual 737 MAX crisis, which includes different, more recent versions of Boeing's most popular aircraft

Is the Federal Aviation Administration too close to the industry it regulates? Following the crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Indonesia and Ethiopia, The Wall Street Journal examines why the FAA is under new control of the aircraft certification process.

An FAA spokesman stated that the agency had confirmed some major repairs and was now requesting more frequent updates on the progress of inspections of aircraft used. In an email sent to some congressional committees in late October, the FAA said the Southwest "is taking our problems seriously."

As questions arose regarding safety-related support and documents,

Pop Peter Defacio

from Oregon, Democratic chairman of the House Transportation Committee, wrote the FAA chief

Steve Dixon

at the end of last month, "If the FAA cannot conclude with absolute certainty that an airplane is airborne, it should not be in the sky."

As part of its overall risk assessment, completed in the week following the October letter to The FAA, Southwest, told the agency that it analyzed whether 38 aircraft had survived accidents that put them under unusual structural stress, such as landing too heavy or carrying too much weight; damage to ground equipment; or strike the tail of the aircraft on the runway during take-offs and landings. The Southwest found more than 1,200 such events, but determined that they did not significantly increase the risk of continuing aircraft operations.

In June, the FAA removed three senior executives from a local Southwestern office after months of escalating concern from inspectors, congressional staff, and others over allegations of poor security enforcement. In addition to checking the maintenance of 38 aircraft, the inspector general of the transportation department is investigating the Southwest for failures to reliably calculate the weight of checked baggage and a number of other operational incidents in the last year.

Ongoing issues raised by lawmakers reflect the difficulties faced a decade ago by the Southwest, its leaders and the FAA in another controversial maintenance dispute. In 2009, Southwest agreed to pay $ 7.5 million in penalties to settle claims that it operated 46 aircraft on 60,000 flights, without carrying out mandatory maintenance checks for possible fuselage cracks.

Congressional hearings and public outcry over the detection of these loopholes provoked widespread adoption. debate over whether the FAA had improperly cozy relationships with the airlines it was monitoring, especially in the Southwest. According to testimony from Capitol Hill at the time by FAA and Southwestern officials, local FAA officials have allowed Southwest to keep the aircraft in operation, although they know that some mandatory safety checks have not been carried out.

Write to Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com and Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com

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