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Chaos as US airline grounds more flights

Latest update : 2008-04-11

American Airlines, the largest US airline, has canceled around 570 flights scheduled for Friday due to wiring problems with its MD-80 fleet for a second time this week. The disruptions affect more than 300,000 passengers. (Report: A.Roy)

WASHINGTON, April 10 (Reuters) - American Airlines has
canceled about 570 flights scheduled for Friday, raising to
more than 3,000 the number this week it has grounded to
reinspect the wiring on its MD-80 fleet for a second time.
 

The company's chief executive said on Thursday it may need
several more days to finish the job, which it had hoped to
complete by Saturday.
 

The disruption has affected more than 300,000 passengers,
including Friday's schedule cuts, and wreaked havoc with its
operations at big airports like Chicago and Dallas.
 

The unit of AMR Corp grounded its entire stable of nearly
300 MD-80 medium-range airliners on Tuesday, prompting 460
flight cancellations that day. It canceled 1,094 on Wednesday
and another 930 on Thursday.
 

American runs about 2,300 mainline departures daily.
 

Delta Air Lines Inc and Alaska Airlines Group canceled a
few dozen flights, combined, over the same issue with their
MD-80s.
 

American's chief executive, Gerard Arpey said on Thursday
the carrier had unsuccessfully asked the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) for an alternative to grounding the
planes, because it did not believe the problem posed an
imminent safety threat.
 

 Arpey apologized to passengers and said he had no doubt
American operates safely. "I put my kids on these airplanes all
the time," he told a conference call with reporters.
 

Airline officials had said on Wednesday they hoped to have
the situation in hand by Saturday. But Arpey said American is
trying "to stay ahead" of the problem and it could take
"several more days to get back up to speed."
 

PRESSURE
 

The inspections relate to a 2006 FAA order to ensure that
wiring in the MD-80's right wheel well is properly installed
and secured to guard against electrical shorts and fire.
 

The FAA, under pressure from Congress and government
watchdogs to step up oversight, demanded in March that American
reinspect MD-80s to ensure wire bundles were properly secured.
 

American grounded planes two weeks ago and resecured wiring
where necessary to comply with the directive, but a follow-up
inspection of several planes by the FAA found incomplete work.
 

"We were not in precise compliance and we need to be,"
Arpey said.
 

American said the March inspections revealed no age-related
wear of wiring that underpinned the original concern about
electrical shorts, and there have been no incidents related to
the issue.
 

 Arpey defended maintenance personnel responsible for
interpreting FAA orders and charting out a plan for doing the
work. "Our mechanics did not fail us in any way," he said.
 

Asked whether FAA was being too tough on American, Arpey
said the agency was doing its job. "The FAA is under its own
set of pressures. I believe they are simply holding the
industry to a high standard."
 

The FAA's regional safety office in Dallas, where American
is based, has been harshly criticized by Congress and the
Transportation Department inspector general for its oversight
of Southwest Airlines Co. Senior agency officials have been
questioned closely by lawmakers about a system that allows
airlines to self-report compliance with safety directives.
 

Inspection lapses at Southwest triggered an industry-wide
FAA review in recent weeks of how carriers comply with
directives, leading to closer scrutiny of MD-80s.
 

The FAA has proposed fining Southwest $10.2 million for
knowingly flying Boeing Co 737 aircraft that had not been
inspected closely enough for fuselage cracks.
 

SAFETY OR POLITICS?
 

John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation
Safety Board and an airline maintenance expert, agreed with
American that the MD-80 case posed no imminent safety threat
and there was no need to ground all the planes.
 

He suggested the politically charged climate in Washington
is playing a large part. "If we were to turn back the clock six
months and American came forward and voluntarily asked for an
alternative means (to comply) the FAA in all likelihood would
have approved it," Goglia said.
 

Standard & Poor's rating agency said American would likely
experience a "noticeable financial impact" in the second
quarter due to cancellations and the cost of rebooking
passengers.
 

"Perhaps the only factors working in American's favor are
that its competitors' planes are already so crowded that it is
not possible to book many passengers on other airlines," S&P
said.
 

Arpey did not have a firm figure for the financial impact
so far but believes it will "be in the tens of millions of
dollars."
 

AMR shares closed up 7.6 percent at $9.87 on the New York
Stock Exchange on Thursday, after losing 11 percent on
Wednesday. Airline shares were broadly higher with the Amex
airline index .XAL> up 2.8 percent.
 

"Everybody is up, it's kind of like a little rebound from
yesterday," said Ray Neidl, airline analyst at Calyon
Securities.
 

Date created : 2008-04-11

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