Federal safety officials are seeking a $325,000 fine against Southwest Airlines and say that the carrier used a plane too long before making a permanent repair to a crease in the fuselage.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that the nine-inch crease near the jet's rear cargo door was first noted in Southwest's records in May 2002. The airline made a temporary repair and was required to make a permanent repair within 24,000 flights.
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The FAA said Southwest improperly recorded a temporary fix as a permanent repair and flew the plane 24,831 times. The FAA said one of its inspectors found the discrepancy while checking the aging plane at a maintenance facility in El Salvador in July 2014. A final repair was made two weeks later.
Southwest Airlines Co. spokesman Brad Hawkins said Southwest discovered the problem and met all of the FAA's concerns before putting the plane back in service. The plane was undergoing an unrelated maintenance inspection at Aeroman, a facility in El Salvador, but the original repair was performed in the U.S., he said.
For more than a decade, U.S. airlines have shifted some of their maintenance work overseas to cut costs. Facilities like the Aeroman plant in El Salvador must be approved by the FAA before working on planes that will be used by U.S. airlines.
Unions representing American maintenance workers have fought against the trend but with little success.
The FAA said Southwest has asked to meet to discuss the issue. Airlines often negotiate with the agency and seek reduced penalties.