Friday, March 19, 2010

American Airlines: Another day, another fine for another maintenance violation

by B. N. Sullivan

American AirlinesJust a week ago, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed fines against American Airlines (AA) totaling $787,500 for three separate maintenance violations. Yesterday the FAA came down on AA with another fine -- $300,000 this time -- for yet another maintenance violation. That's more than a million dollars worth of proposed civil penalties in the space of a week for AA, not to mention another $2.9 million in February against American Eagle, the regional carrier owned by AA's parent, AMR Corp.

What is going on? Have AMR's airlines really been falling down on the maintenance job, or have they 'merely' been unlucky in being caught out?

Here are the most recent allegations by the FAA:
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.
In a press release announcing this most recent proposed civil penalty against American Airlines, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said, "We expect full compliance with all of our maintenance standards. Safety is our top concern. Maintenance personnel must pay attention to every detail when they are working on an aircraft."

American Airlines has a 30 day period in which to respond to the new allegations.