Southwest Grounds 44 Planes

Missed inspections for cracks drew fine from FAA—which didn't take immediate action
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2008 2:15 PM CDT
A Southwest Airlines jetliner lands on a runway at SeaTac International Airport in SeaTac, Wash., on Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Southwest Airlines grounded 44 planes today after having admitted to flying aircraft that were past due for inspections for structural cracks, the AP reports. The FAA fined Southwest $10.2 million—the largest ever levied on an airline—but the agency itself is under fire for not grounding the jets last year after it learned of the missed inspections.

The planes grounded today—Boeing 737s—make up 8% of Southwest’s fleet. CEO Gary Kelly said the carrier had placed three employees on paid leave pending investigation into how the oversight occurred. FAA chief Robert Sturgell criticized his organization for failing to ground the affected planes when it learned of missed inspections last March. "At least one FAA inspector looked the other way," he said.