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Airline Safety - A Cascading Effect

Over the last week thousands of passengers have been inconvenienced by the over 3000 flight cancellations by American Airlines and others like Delta Air Lines, Alaska and Midwest airlines.

Just a month ago, I posted an entry titled Airline Safety Compromised that discussed the issue of the FAA looking the other way regarding the failure of Southwest Airlines to properly inspect the fuselages of some of their air fleet. Despite the fact that the American Airlines maintenance issue relates to bundled wiring in the wheel wells, and not fuselage cracks, the "dots" are pretty obvious. Still, some people don't see the connections and are trying to understand why American (and the other airlines) voluntarily cancelled so many flights and took the enormous financial losses (like one of the local radio talk show hosts in town). It seems pretty clear that in response to the Congressional oversight and attention following the FAA/Southwest Airlines incident, that the airlines decided to err on the side of caution and follow FAA requirements to the letter, and the FAA took hardline positions with maintenance issues. This relationship, that of the initial whistle blowing on the FAA looking other way regarding Southwest Airlines' and its maintenance issues, and the recent maintenance groundings for Delta, United and then American Airlines is here.

American was but the latest of several airlines to undertake sudden safety checks the past few weeks. First came Southwest, which wasted no time grounding more than 40 planes to make emergency inspections after FAA whistleblowers said safety inspectors hadn't done their job. And thousands of customers of Southwest -- generally credited with top-notch service -- contended with scores of canceled flights. Suddenly, other airlines, including Delta and United, came forward to announce new safety checks and canceled flights.

In my opinion, this is a great example of a cascading interdependency of one infrastructure incident creating "downstream," related incidents. One could conclude that the lax oversight by the FAA of Southwest Airlines led to the inconveniencing of thousands of passengers. However, maybe now safety and inspections of the air fleets will return to being the paramount concern.