Southwest flew 17M people on jets without confirmed maintenance records: report

Southwest Airlines flew more than 17 million people on aircrafts with unconfirmed maintenance records over a two-year period, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a U.S. Department of Transportation draft report.

The audit by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Inspector General also faulted the agency’s oversight and enforcement, saying it took no enforcement action after an incident in 2019 when Southwest smashed a jet’s wingtips on a runway while attempting a landing in gale-force winds and that the FAA’s approach to enforcement often “justif[ied] continued noncompliance with safety regulations.”

The inspector general’s 18-month review found FAA managers in the office with oversight over Southwest regularly let the airline “fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns” and that nearly two out of three of the 46 agency employees the IG’s office interviewed “raised concerns about the culture” within Southwest.

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“It is clear that the Agency is not yet effectively navigating the balance between industry collaboration and managing safety risks at the carrier,” the report states.

An FAA spokesperson said the agency intends to “respond directly” to the report, while a Southwest spokeswoman gave the newspaper a more in-depth response, saying it was full of “unsubstantiated references to Southwest’s Safety Culture.”

“We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the OIG and will continue to communicate any concerns directly with its office,” she said in an email to the WSJ. “Our friends, our families board our aircraft and not a single one of us would put anything above their safety.”

Southwest executives have previously claimed some of the data discrepancies, which involve issues such as plane weight at takeoff and maintenance documentation, as subjective differences of opinion that did not affect passenger safety.

The report also comes in the wake of allegations from lawmakers and safety authorities that the FAA has given Boeing too much leeway in approval of its 737 Max jet, which has been grounded for months following two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed hundreds of people.