Investigation: American and Southwest Airlines Mechanics Pressured To Overlook Potential Safety Problems
An eight month investigation by CBS News found both American and Southwest airline mechanics allege they were pressured by management to overlook safety violations. Mechanics claim their jobs were in jeopardy if they spoke out publicly.
The investigation is backed up by several whistleblower accounts filed with the FAA between 2015 and 2018. The FAA has agreed with the mechanics in some cases after completing investigations.
The report comes as the passenger airline industry is considered safer than ever. The passenger airline industry in the United States suffered one fatality over the course of the last decade. The year 2017 was the safest year, globally, for commercial travel with no fatalities on passenger jets. That’s a substantial accomplishment and has come from technological advances in aircraft.
The investigation found that mechanics, two-thirds of which came from American Airlines and the remainder from Southwest Airlines, were given a hard time while trying to log mechanical issues. Some of them claim they were told to ignore issues that they were not ordered to work on. For example, one mechanic said, “If you’re working, say, on a landing gear, lubing it, and you notice that a flap three feet away is leaking, and you write up the flap leak, you’re beyond your scope.”
A whistleblower investigation by the FAA in 2015 substantiated claims that American Airlines pressured six American Airlines mechanics to “not record discrepancies, take short cuts…or improperly sign off on work which was not actually completed.” The report also warned about a concern that this issue “may be much more prevalent across American’s organization.”
Twenty-one follow-up FAA investigations were put into place after that investigation, with CBS News finding that two of the investigations led to letters of correction being issued.
The FAA said in a statement that it is always looking to improve safety and takes any reports of non-compliance seriously. The FAA said it continues to be involved with investigations related to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
In a statement to CBS News, Southwest Airlines claimed it does not prohibit it’s employees from logging other issues while working on an assigned task. The airline said, “Southwest is hands down one of the best companies in the world to work for with an unprecedented safety record. Our friends, our families board these flights and not a single one of us would put anything above their safety – this mission unites us all.”
It’s important to note here that some of this is older news, but the investigation found claims that the activities outlined in prior complaints continues. It also brought to light the number of complaints along these lines that have taken place over the past few years.
It will be interesting to see what the FAA’s newer investigations of whistleblower accounts will find. It will be interesting to see if this is more systemic, as the 2015 FAA report alleged, or is more localized. Regardless, anybody working for any airline that is trying to cut corners on mechanical issues should be held accountable.