10:13 AM EDT, September 13, 2011
The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a $1.1 million fine against an aviation repair facility after the company allegedly made improper repairs as part of fuselage inspections on Southwest Airlines jets.
Aviation Technical Services Inc. of Everett, conducted improper work on 44 Southwest Boeing 737s, the FAA said.
The proposed fine comes at a time when federal authorities are taking a fresh look at the issue of metal fatigue after a large hole appeared in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines B-737 last April. But the FAA said that fuselage crack was unreleated to Aviation Technical Services.
"ATS did not perform inspection and repair work on that aircraft prior to the April fuselage failure," the FAA said.
The agency said it was proposing to fine Aviation Technical Services for allegedly failing to do all the work required by FAA mandates, which call for repetitive inspections to find and repair fatigue cracks in the fuselage skins of planes. After the inspections, the company allegedly failed to install fasteners in all the rivet holes within the time specified for the task. Sealant drying time dictates the timing of the work, the FAA said.
All of the repairs took place from 2006 through 2009.
"Aircraft can be operated safely for many years if all the maintenance work is performed properly," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. "It is critical to follow all the required steps."
Aviation Technical Services issued a statement saying safety is its "first and foremost goal."
"With regard to this regulatory matter, we are cooperating fully with the FAA and are confident that our systems and protocols meet or exceed every industry standard for maintenance excellence and safety," the statement said.
In the April incident, a large hole appeared in the fuselage of Southwest Flight 812, causing the rapid depressurization of the cabin, as it flew at 34,000 feet. The flight crew conducted an emergency descent, landing at a Yuma International Airport in Arizona. No one was seriously hurt.
A tear in the skin occurred at a "lap joint," where two sections of skin overlap and are joined together with three rows of closely spaced rivets, the National Transportation Safety Board found.
At the time, federal officials and the plane's manufacturers hastily ordered inspections of all similar aircraft. Of the 136 inspected, four airplanes were found to have crack indications at a single rivet and one airplane was found to have crack indications at two rivets.