Southwest CEO: 'Business is holding up just fine' after passenger death

Southwest CEO: 'Business is holding up just fine' after passenger death
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Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday that the company’s business is “holding up” after last week’s accidental passenger death.

“I think our business is holding up just fine. A little bit of softness is to be expected,” Kelly told CNBC.

The company is “growing at a very manageable rate,” said Kelly, adding that safety remains a top priority for the airline.

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The CEO’s remarks come the same day Southwest released its first quarter report, which predicted the airline’s revenue per available seat mile, a measure contrasting revenue between airlines, would dip by one to three percent in the second quarter.

Southwest said about 1 to 2 of those points is due to “recent softness in bookings” after last week’s deadly accident, when a jet engine blade broke off a Boeing 737 mid-flight, breaking a window and requiring an emergency landing.

Kelly said he expects Southwest’s accelerated engine inspections, ordered after the accident, to be completed by the end of May and that more than 80 percent of its fleet had been inspected as of Thursday morning. 

“So we’re on a very accelerated cycle compared to what had previously been done in the industry, which is look at the engines and these fan blades roughly every 18 months or every 3,000 cycles,” he told the network.

Southwest announced it would speed up engine inspections following the death of Jennifer Riordan, who died after a piece of the engine shattered a window and partly pulled her out of the aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the incident. The agency’s chairman, Robert Sumwalt, said last week that the blown engine had “metal fatigue” and a fan blade “was separated at the point where it would come into the hub." 

Kelly said he did not have additional information in regards to what caused the metal fatigue, deferring to the safety board’s probe. But he said the airline would continue to do all that it can to inspect the blades and discover any potential metal fatigue. 

“It is highly unusual to have fatigue in these blades, so the accelerated schedule that we’re using will be more than adequate to identify any early warnings and then we simply replace the blades and they’re discarded,” Kelly said. 

The incident has garnered attention and concern from lawmakers, who are currently considering a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The legislation includes an amendment from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterEx-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Pa.) that would require the FAA to conduct an engine safety review and present a report to the committee.