Whistleblowers attack Southwest, FAA for lax security practices

DALLAS — Federal officials say Southwest Airlines and the union that represents its pilots have resisted cooperating with investigations of crashes and other incidents and pushed to close matters quickly.

In a case unsealed Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration has halted an investigation of a 2019 incident in Connecticut despite the agency determining pilot error. Both wings of the Southwest jet were damaged when pilots fighting against the wind tried to land at Bradley International Airport outside Hartford.

The FAA said Southwest and union officials resisted meeting with agency representatives in that and other cases. Sometimes delaying tactics worked. An investigation into why pilots duct-taped sensors outside a plane before a flight failed when the FAA employee took another job.

Southwest said the allegations are longstanding and that it has 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 execute safe operating practices,” the company said. it’s a statement. .

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

The FAA investigation was revealed Wednesday by the US Office of Special Counsel, which represents the federal whistleblowers. It reported another accident, a plane that skidded off the runway in Burbank, California, in which an FAA review was “expedited” under pressure from Southwest. In a separate review of that incident, the National Transportation Review Board found the co-pilot’s conduct to be “highly unprofessional.”

The FAA said it agreed with some of the allegations raised by three whistleblowers and took corrective action including further training and audit development to ensure compliance with aviation security guidelines.

The special prosecutor’s office investigated eight complaints filed by four complainants. The office sent its findings to the White House and Congress.

In a response to the special counsel’s office, the FAA said it found “mismanagement and lack of oversight” by the office that monitors Southwest that has persisted despite changes in management and personnel over the years. the years. The FAA said the new executives will provide “a new opportunity to evaluate” Southwest’s oversight.

Some of the whistleblowers’ allegations have been made before, including Southwest’s use of foreign-purchased aircraft without checking their maintenance and inspection records. In more than half of those cases, the airline discovered that the planes had undergone repairs that were not documented or could not be verified.

The FAA said some of the whistleblowers’ allegations could not be substantiated, including the claim that Southwest routinely assigns too much work for mechanics to handle.

A separate allegation that the FAA incorrectly certified Southwest for long flights over water (approval the airline needed to sell flights to Hawaii) was reviewed by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, who was unable to verify the claim.

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

Dallas-based Southwest has faced security questions over the years and paid millions to resolve security breaches; however, it has a good track record in its five-decade history.

No passengers had been killed in a crash involving a Southwest plane until 2018, when a woman died after an engine blew up in Pennsylvania and debris shattered the window next to her seat. In 2005, a 6-year-old boy riding in a car was killed when a Southwest jet landing during a snowstorm in Chicago skidded off the runway, crashed through a fence and struck the car.

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