FAA investigating American's MD-80 repairs
Federal regulators investigating American Airlines over repairs to MD-80 series jets
By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer
On Friday September 4, 2009,
1:48 pm EDT DALLAS (AP) -- U.S. regulators are investigating American Airlines over structural repairs to its aging fleet of MD-80 series aircraft.
A Federal Aviation Administration official said Friday that the investigation centered on 16 planes.
The Wall Street Journal reported FAA officials suspect American rushed to retire one of the planes to keep it away from inspectors.
A spokesman for American denied the accusation and said mothballing the aircraft wouldn't let it escape FAA scrutiny.
"We retired the plane for economic reasons, tied to our decision several months ago to reduce capacity," spokesman Roger Frizzell told The Associated Press. "Any other assertion is incorrect and misleading."
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford declined to say whether inspectors believed the airline had tried to hide the plane or whether they had examined it in the New Mexico desert, where it is now parked. He said inspectors examined "a number of planes."
Lunsford said the investigation centered on repairs to the rear bulkhead of the MD-80 series aircraft. As of May, American had 270 MD-80 series jets, or 44 percent of its fleet, according to the company's Web site.
Fort Worth-based American, a unit of AMR Corp., is slowly replacing the MD-80s with new, more fuel-efficient planes while it reduces capacity, or the number of flights, to deal with a decline in air travel.
Airplanes expand and contract as the cabin is pressurized for flight and then depressurized. That can lead to metal fatigue that requires close monitoring and sometimes repairs, especially around the rear bulkhead.
Improper rear bulkhead repairs were blamed for the 1985 crash of a Japan Airlines Boeing 747 that killed 520 people, still the worst single accident in aviation history.
The Journal reported that FAA inspectors believe at least 16 American jets may have flown for months or years with improper fasteners and poorly done repairs to structural cracks.
American spokesman Tim Wagner said the airline discovered the potentially improper fasteners used on the MD-80 bulkheads and told the FAA, identifying each aircraft with the questionable parts.
FAA investigations can lead to exoneration of the carrier or, as in recent cases involving American and Southwest Airlines Co., penalties that run into the millions of dollars.
Shares of American parent AMR Corp. rose 10 cents to $5.59 in afternoon trading Friday.