Southwest Airlines To Pay $2.8M To Settle FAA Lawsuit Over Improper Repairs

More than a year after the U.S. government sued Southwest Airlines over allegedly improper repairs to more than a dozen aircraft, the airline has agreed to settle the allegations to the tune of $2.8 million. 

The Department of Justice on Monday announced that the Federal Aviation Administration settled a lawsuit filed in Nov. 2014 alleging that Southwest did not properly oversee a contractor hired to complete fuselage repairs on dozens of planes.

According to the FAA’s suit, from 2006 to 2009 Southwest used 44 Boeing 737 planes that had undergone improper fuselage repairs.

The contractor hired by Southwest – Aviation Technical Services – allegedly failed to follow required procedures regarding the placement of the airplanes on jacks and stabilizing them while replacing the fuselage skins on the aircraft. By not following the proper protocol, the airframe could shift and lead to problems with the new skin.

The FAA claims it alerted Southwest of the issues in April 2009, but the airline continued to use the planes for at least six months before completing additional repairs.

In a second incident, the contractor applied sealant beneath the new skin panels but failed to install fasteners to all the rivet holes while the sealant was effective. The omission could have resulted in gaps between the skin and the plane’s surface which could let moisture inside leading to corrosion.

Additionally, the FAA alleged in the suit that Southwest failed to properly install a ground wire on water drain masts on two of its aircraft as required by the FAA Airworthiness Directive regarding lightning strikes. The airplanes were each operated on more than 20 passenger flights after Southwest Airlines became aware of the discrepancies but before the airline corrected the problem.

Under the settlement, Southwest will pay $2.8 million in penalties, and has agreed to pay up to $5.5 million in deferred penalties if it does not implement operational changes, such as enhancing oversight and control of third-party maintenance contractors.

A spokesperson for Southwest tells the Associated Press that the company is “committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable FAA regulations.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.