Tuesday, April 08, 2008

American Airlines pilots' view of MD-80 groundings and re-inspections

American Airlines MD-80Today American Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights after it grounded all of the MD-80 (S-80) aircraft in its fleet for the second time in two weeks. More cancellations are expected tomorrow, and perhaps the day after as well.

According to a press release issued by the airline earlier today, the aircraft were grounded in order to conduct additional inspections "to ensure precise and complete compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s airworthiness directive related to the bundling of wires in the aircraft’s wheel wells. These inspections – based on FAA audits – are related to detailed, technical compliance issues and not safety-of-flight issues."

The American Airlines pilots' union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), has a somewhat different take on this situation. In a lengthy message posted today on the Information Hotline section of the APA website, a union official said:
Management continues to claim that these inspections are not safety-of-flight issues. However, the original airworthiness directive (AD) was issued "to prevent shorted 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 airplane."

The directive continues: "The actions specified by this AD are also intended to reduce the potential of an ignition source adjacent to the fuel tanks, which, in combination with flammable fuel vapors, could result in a fuel tank explosion and consequent loss of the airplane."

Today's actions were the result of an FAA ramp inspection Monday of nine S-80s to make sure the jets had been properly inspected and modified. All nine failed the audit.
The APA Information Hotline message also provides insight into the amount of scrambling American Airlines is doing to get the grounded aircraft re-inspected and back into service:
At this time, management reports that there are 290 aircraft still in need of inspection, a process that should take two to three days. They expect to have 130 of those inspections completed tonight. Management is chartering aircraft to get specially-trained maintenance personnel to the grounded aircraft. Once the planes are inspected, they will either be repaired on site or they will be ferried to a maintenance station.

The APA Safety Committee advises all pilots to exercise extreme caution during the period of confusion and heightened FAA scrutiny of American Airlines operations. The results of the S-80 inspection may not be recorded in the E6 logbook. All S-80 pilots are encouraged to contact Tulsa maintenance and receive verification of the inspection status of their aircraft prior to departure. Document all problems associated with the inspections using an ASAP report.
In addition to what the union refers to as "American's management-caused reliability issues," the APA is concerned about the paychecks of American Airlines pilots affected by the grounding of so many aircraft. A meeting between American Airlines management and representatives of the pilots' union is scheduled for April 9, 2008. Union officials said that they "expect management to 'do the right thing' and protect the pay of the pilots affected by this management failure."

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