FAA proposes civil penalty against American Airlines of $24.2 million

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $24.2 million civil penalty against American Airlines Inc. for failing to correctly follow an Airworthiness Directive involving the maintenance of its McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft. This civil penalty is the largest ever proposed by the FAA.

The FAA alleges American did not follow steps outlined in a 2006 Airworthiness Directive requiring operators to inspect wire bundles located in the wheel wells of MD-80 aircraft. The Airworthiness Directive, AD 2006-15-15, required a one-time general visual inspection by March 5, 2008 for chafing or signs of arcing of the wire bundle for the auxiliary hydraulic pump. It also required operators to perform corrective actions in accordance with the instructions of the applicable manufacturer’s Service Bulletin.

The purpose of the Airworthiness Directive was to prevent the shorting of wires or arcing at the auxiliary hydraulic pump, which could result in loss of auxiliary hydraulic power or a fire in the wheel well of the aircraft. The Airworthiness Directive also sought to reduce the potential of an ignition source adjacent to the fuel tanks, which, in combination with the flammable vapors, could result in a fuel tank explosion.

The FAA first detected the violations on March 25, 2008, during an inspection of two aircraft. The FAA informed American’s management that the aircraft did not comply with the AD, prompting a series of re-inspections and additional maintenance work that occurred during the following two weeks. On March 26, after American performed additional maintenance on its MD-80 fleet, the FAA inspected eight aircraft at American’s Tulsa maintenance base and found that seven did not comply with the Airworthiness Directive. On April 7, the FAA inspected another nine MD-80 aircraft at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and found that eight of them still did not comply with the AD.  A tenth aircraft inspected by American mechanics also did not comply. On April 8, American began grounding its MD-80 fleet to conduct new inspections and redo work as necessary.

The FAA subsequently determined that 286 of the airline’s MD-80s were operated on a combined 14,278 passenger flights while the aircraft were not in compliance with Federal Regulations. American ultimately completed the work required by the 2006 Airworthiness Directive. Over the last year and a half, FAA safety officials have reported progress in working with American Airlines to help improve the airline’s maintenance culture. The FAA is committed to continuing that work.

American has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s civil penalty letter to respond to the agency.

The Dallas Morning News quotes an American statement on the issue: “These events happened more than two years ago, and we believe this action is unwarranted….We plan to follow the FAA’s process and will challenge any proposed civil penalty. We are confident we have a strong case and the facts will bear this out.”

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