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FAA threatened to ground 38 Southwest Airlines jets over maintenance concerns, report says

CNBC logo CNBC 11/11/2019 Ganesh Setty

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off. © Provided by CNBC LLC A Southwest Airlines jet takes off.

U.S. aviation regulators "threatened" to ground 38 Boeing 737 jets operated by Southwest Airlines last month because the carrier isn't able to verify that the aircraft meet all mandatory safety standards, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing government documents.

Congressional investigators and the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general's office are looking at Southwest's operation of used foreign aircraft it bought over the years, the WSJ reported, citing to the documents and people familiar with the matter. Southwest hasn't been able to provide the documentation to verify that the necessary maintenance and repairs were made to the planes under their previous ownership, according to the report. 

Regulators are scrutinizing 88 used jets that were previously flown by airlines in Canada, China, Russia, Argentina and Turkey, according to the WSJ. Regulators inspected and vetted the paperwork of 41 of the planes, while another nine are currently still under inspection. That leaves 38 remaining jets which have are under scrutiny from the FAA and the DOT Inspector General's staff.

The paperwork issues led the airline and the FAA to develop a backup inspection and verification program, according to the documents. Southwest told the FAA it had 50 employees examine 63,000 repair documents in 15 languages.

The agency is allowing Southwest to keep 38 of the planes in the air while the company speeds its review to fully vet each jet by the end of January, the WSJ reported. The previous deadline was July.

The airline indicated in letters to the Federal Aviation Administration over the last two weeks that it also found dozens of questionable repairs on other used aircraft prior to being purchased by Southwest.  

Southwest told the WSJ it was in compliance with the long-term inspection program covering the previously foreign-owned 737 used jets, and that none of the discrepancies threatened flight safety.

A company spokeswoman also disputed that the FAA threatened to ground the planes. She said the FAA requested additional information and the company was meeting the agency's requests, according to the WSJ.

Read the full Wall Street Journal story here.


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