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Airline Safety Compromised

UPDATE: Southwest Airlines has now grounded 41 planes

It is hard to believe and the Congressional hearings on this will be quite interesting, but it has been revealed that FAA representatives gave Southwest Airlines a pass on safety checks. The allegations include the FAA officials ignoring safety violations, leaking information to the airline and attempting to intimidate two inspectors to head off investigations.

The House Transportation Committee is supposed to meet and hear testimony of the two whistle blowers on April 3. Based on early indications, the FAA officials overseeing Southwest allowed the airline to skip critical safety checks for a number of years. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency, indicates that there is reason to believe the allegations of the whistle blowers.

As a result, on March 6th, USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines was fined more than $10 million for flying 46 jets without doing checks for cracks in the fuselages. The two FAA officials assigned to Southwest were reassigned. The two whistle blowers, FAA inspectors C. Bobby Boutris and Douglas Peters have said that they were reporting the laxness of supervision of Southwest’s maintenance and safety as long ago as 2003.

FAA inspector C. Bobby Boutris wrote in a memo to Congress last fall that only after congressional investigators began inquiring about the matter did the agency tighten oversight at Southwest. "After eight months, they (Southwest) are finally doing what they were required to do back in March, and this is not by choice," Boutris wrote. "It is very sad that somebody from outside had to force them to do the right thing."

The Democratic Chairman of the Transportation Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) called this the worst lapse in safety in 23 years. For the FAA’s part, they admit that the officials assigned to supervise Southwest Airlines had gotten “too close” to the people they were supposed to monitor. The airlines contends that safety was not compromised that that they acted with FAA permission.

I think that there's probably more to this than is being reported.