Air Freight News

Southwest Air Hit With $3.9 Million Fine for Weight Breaches

Southwest Airlines Co. was hit with a proposed $3.92 million civil penalty by U.S. aviation regulators for allegedly operating thousands of flights with inaccurate weight estimates of its planes.

The airline flew 44 jets on a total of 21,505 flights with “incorrect” weight estimates, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday. Airlines must calculate the weight of each plane before takeoff, which is used to determine takeoff speed and assure safe operation of the aircraft.

“The FAA alleges that Southwest’s operation of these aircraft was contrary to the airline’s approved weight-and-balance program and FAA-issued operations specifications,” the agency said in a press release.

Southwest said in a statement that the problem stemmed from a transfer or weight information from one computer system to another and that the airline reported it to the FAA.

“Southwest Airlines will continue working with the FAA to demonstrate the effectiveness of our controls and processes and seek to achieve an effective and appropriate resolution to this proposed penalty,” according to the statement.

The civil penalty comes as the FAA has wrestled with whistle-blower allegations that managers weren’t rigorous enough in how they oversaw Southwest. An investigation by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General into maintenance issues at the carrier is also underway.

The FAA reassigned three managers at the Texas office overseeing Southwest in June, partly as a result of the weight-and-balance issue. More recently, FAA officials have sparred over what actions to take to ensure that 88 aircraft Southwest bought from foreign carriers are properly documented and repaired.

The FAA’s action begins a process of negotiation in which Southwest can contest the fine or negotiate a lower amount. In 2009, the carrier agreed to pay a $7.5 million penalty after it operated 46 jets on almost 60,000 flights without mandatory checks for cracks. The FAA had originally proposed a fine of $10.2 million.

The latest issue involves charges that Southwest incorrectly estimated the weight of 44 planes without passengers aboard or fuel, the FAA said in a press release.

That so-called empty weight is used to calculate how much a plane weighs for takeoff. It is also used to determine whether the weight is properly balanced.

While it’s not clear the FAA’s proposed penalty is directly related, the agency had been looking into similar issues with weight-and-balance calculations at Southwest since January 2018, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg News.

The agency had discovered “numerous reports” of Southwest employees not following company procedures for counting accurate weights for baggage, according to a February 2018 letter from FAA to the carrier.

Southwest’s own audit data “appears to show that your action plan is ineffective and the apparent noncompliance with your weight and balance system has not been resolved,” the FAA notice to Southwest said.

In response, the carrier was taking multiple steps to improve the weight estimates and was adding a computerized system to count bags, according to the documents.

Bloomberg
Bloomberg

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© Bloomberg
The author’s opinion are not necessarily the opinions of the American Journal of Transportation (AJOT).

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