FAA proposes civil penalty against American Airlines of $24.2 million

August 28, 2010

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.”


FAA proposes $300,000 civil penalty against American Airlines

March 18, 2010

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it is proposing a $300,000 civil penalty on American Airlines for a maintenance violation.

The FAA alleges that on Feb. 2, 2009, American Airlines mechanics deferred maintenance on a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 under the airline’s DC-9 Minimum Equipment List (MEL) by noting that the “pitot/stall heater light off” light on the aircraft’s annunciator panel was inoperative.

However, maintenance personnel determined the next day that the inoperative part was actually the captain’s pitot probe heater. Pitot probes are mounted on the exterior surfaces of an airplane and are used in measuring airspeed. Because they can be affected by a build-up of ice, these devices are equipped with heaters. The airplane’s MEL allows for maintenance on the pitot probe heater to be deferred, but it restricts flights to daytime only, in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). It prohibits flights into known or forecast icing or visible moisture.

Because mechanics logged the discrepancy as an inoperative panel light, the flight crew was unaware that the daytime, VMC restrictions applied to further flights. The aircraft was operated on five passenger revenue flights, in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations.

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


FAA proposes civil penalties totaling $787,500 against American Airlines

March 12, 2010

FAA logoThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking to collect three proposed civil penalties totaling $787,500 from American Airlines for maintenance violations.

In the first case, which occurred in April 2008, the FAA alleges American Airlines mechanics diagnosed problems with one of two Central Air Data Computers (CADCs) on a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 jetliner. Instead of replacing the computer, mechanics improperly deferred this maintenance under the airline’s DC-9 Minimum Equipment List (MEL) by noting that the auto-throttles were inoperative. The MEL, however, does not allow deferral of an inoperative CADC.

The airline subsequently flew the plane on 10 passenger flights before the computer was replaced. During this time, flight crews were led to believe that both computers were working properly.

The FAA proposes a civil penalty of $625,000 in this case.

In the second case, the FAA found that in March 2008, American failed to correctly follow an Airworthiness Directive involving the inspection of rudder components on certain Boeing 757 aircraft. As a result, four 757s operated by American Airlines did not comply with the requirements of the Airworthiness Directive.

The FAA alleges that after American was advised of the situation, the company said it would cease flying the planes until they were repaired. However, during the following two days, the airline flew two of the planes on a total of three passenger flights. The FAA is seeking a penalty of $75,000 in this case.

In the final case, the FAA alleges that in May 2009, American’s mechanics returned an MD-82 aircraft to service, even though several steps of a scheduled B-check maintenance visit had not been checked off as completed. The airline also replaced a landing gear door without noting it in the aircraft’s logbook.

The aircraft was operated on two passenger flights with the logbook error. An FAA inspection of the aircraft revealed several discrepancies in the tail section, including loose screws, a missing nut plate and a right hand elevator torque tube binding and making noise.  As a result of these discrepancies, the FAA proposes a civil penalty of $87,500.

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


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