While thousands remain inconvenienced, the most important issue remains: how safe is it to fly with American, the world’s largest airline?
Stranded passengers, even by the thousands, are nothing new in the airline industry. But this time it’s a spotlight on safety that has grounded nearly half of the world’s largest fleet. Captain Sam Mayer, an American Airline Pilot who leads the New York pilots’ union, says it’s long overdue.
“Sometimes I think that the mentality of management at our airlines and other has been cost over safety,” Mayer said.
American has cancelled 1,350 flights on Tuesday and Wednesday after it failed to comply with a safety mandate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. CBS 2 HD has learned that another 900 flights are canceled for Thursday and the delays could go on for weeks according to published reports.
American scrubbed the flights to do immediate safety checks on all of its MD-80s after a surprise FAA inspection in Dallas failed nine out of 10 of American’s planes.
That safety bulletin, called an Airworthiness Directive, was published by the FAA in July of 2006 for the MD-80, which makes up half of American Airlines’ fleet. But American was actually first alerted to a potential problem with a bundle of wiring in the wheel well nearly three years ago, in July of 2005.
Plane maker Boeing warned that: “Shorted wires or arcing could result in a fire in the wheel well and a fuel tank explosion and consequent loss of the airplane.”
“We saw what happened with TWA 800, when you put sparks next to a fuel tank,” Mayer said.
An American airlines representative questioned yesterday by a CBS station in Dallas, walked out of an interview when the document was quoted, saying “this is where we’re not going.”
And when reporter Jay Gormley asked, “How is that not a safety issue?” another off camera American representative skirted the question.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” the rep said.
On Wednesday, American Airlines stated they had previously fixed the problem fleet wide on the MD-80, only to have the FAA say it wasn’t fixed to government standards.
“I think what they failed to recognize is that the specific details of how it had to be accomplished,” Mayer said.
American operates about 2,300 daily flights, more than one-third with MD-80s.
American has said the FAA will now individually inspect each of its 300 planes before they are cleared for a safe flight again.