Whistleblowers hit Southwest, FAA for lax security practices

DALLAS (AP) — Federal officials say Southwest Airlines and the union that represents its pilots have resisted cooperation in investigations into accidents and other incidents and urged the business to close quickly.

In one case disclosed Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration has dropped an investigation into a 2019 incident in Connecticut, though the agency determined there was pilot error. Both wings of the Southwest jet were damaged as pilots battling against the wind tried to land at Bradley International Airport, outside Hartford.

The FAA said Southwest and union officials are opposing interviews with agency representatives in those and other cases. Sometimes the delaying tactic worked. An investigation into why pilots placed duct tape over sensors outside an airplane before a flight hissed when the FAA employee took another job.

Southwest said the allegations are old and have fully cooperated with government investigations.

“As part of our emphasis on safety, we have maintained a transparent and professional relationship with the FAA, including multiple FAA-approved safety programs designed to help us manage and mitigate operational risks and conduct safe business practices,” he said. the company in a statement. .

The union representing Southwest pilots did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FAA investigation was disclosed Wednesday by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which represents federal whistleblowers. It reported another accident — a plane going off the runway in Burbank, California — that “accelerated” an FAA review under pressure from Southwest. In a separate review of that incident, the National Transportation Review Board found the copilot’s behavior “deeply unprofessional.”

The FAA said it agreed with some of the allegations made by three whistleblowers and was taking corrective action, including increased training and development of audits to ensure compliance with aviation safety guidelines.

The special counsel’s office was investigating eight allegations made by four whistleblowers. The agency has forwarded its findings to the White House and Congress.

Commenting on the special counsel’s office, the FAA said it found “mismanagement and lack of oversight” by the office overseeing Southwest has persisted despite management and staff changes over the years. The FAA said new executives will provide “another opportunity to evaluate Southwest oversight.”

Some whistleblower allegations have been made before, including Southwest’s use of aircraft purchased abroad without verifying their maintenance and inspection records. In more than half of those cases, the airline found that the aircraft had undergone repair work that had not been documented or could not be verified.

The FAA said some whistleblower allegations could not be proven, including a claim that Southwest routinely assigns too much work to mechanics.

A separate claim that the FAA falsely certified Southwest for long-haul water flights — approval the airline needed to sell flights to Hawaii — was investigated by the Inspector General of the Transportation Department, who was unable to verify the claim.

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency is taking special counsel’s concerns seriously and has adopted his recommendations.

Dallas-based Southwest has: faced with questions about safety over the years and has paid millions to fix security violations, but it has a good track record in its five-decade history.

Until 2018, not a single passenger had been killed in an accident involving an aircraft from the Southwest a woman was murdered after an engine broke down over Pennsylvania and debris shattered the window next to her seat. In 2005, a 6-year-old boy was killed in a car when a Southwest jet landed during a snow storm in Chicago skidded off the runwaycrashed through a fence and hit the car.

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