FAA did not properly oversee Southwest Airlines, U.S. watchdog says

FAA did not properly oversee Southwest Airlines, U.S. watchdog says

An investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that the agency failed to conduct proper safety oversight of Southwest Airlines (LUV.N), a federal watchdog said Wednesday.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) made public an April FAA report that came after four whistleblowers alleged the U.S. aviation regulator “with influence from Southwest, fast-tracked reports on dangerous incidents involving pilot error” at three U.S. airports.

The OSC said FAA’s investigation confirmed it had mishandled those investigations and “carried out recommended corrective actions including robust training for all personnel and development of a regular audit to ensure compliance with FAA’s aviation safety program guidance.”

The incidents under review took place before 2020. Southwest declined to comment. The FAA said it took OSC “concerns seriously and acted quickly to adopt the recommendations that resulted from the investigation.”

The report said the FAA mishandled its response to a February 2019 accident caused by pilot error in which both wings were damaged while attempting to land at the Hartford airport. Connecticut as well as a runway overrun incident at Burbank, California airport and an incident where a crew was unable to divert because of low fuel and needed multiple landing attempts at Philadelphia.

In 2020, the FAA said it was seeking to impose a $3.92 million fine on Southwest for alleged weight infractions on 21,505 flights in 2018 on 44 aircraft. The report made public Wednesday said the issue was resolved in 2021, with payment of a $200,000 civil penalty and deferral of the remaining civil penalty based upon corrective actions accomplished by Southwest.

The FAA investigation substantiated several allegations including that did not properly oversee two separate 2019 accidents, mismanaged oversight of Southwest’s weight and balance program and allowed the airline to operate 88 used 737 jets “knowing that required inspections were not completed in accordance with regulatory requirements.”

Southwest bought the 88 737 planes between 2013 and 2017 from 16 foreign carriers. A 2020 Transportation Department Inspector General’s report said Southwest operated more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on the jets without confirmation that required maintenance had been completed.

The OSC noted FAA now has new senior leadership in place and “these individuals have a new opportunity to correct the mismanagement of FAA’s oversight of (Southwest).” The FAA told OSC that it has commissioned an independent comprehensive climate assessment and evaluation.