Flight Cancellations Lead to Morning Show Contrast on Airlines

     American Airlines canceled more than 300 flights March 26 as older planes were voluntarily re-inspected to make sure they met safety standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration. But the cancellations had CNN’s Miles O’Brien warning viewers that airlines are cutting corners on safety precautions.


     O’Brien said on CNN’s “American Morning” March 27 that “we should all be concerned that the airlines, with all the pressures they face for profitability and the cost of fuel, might be tempted to cut corners on maintenance.”


      “These air worthiness directives … should be followed to the letter,” O’Brien said, referring to a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration to correct wiring safety on American Airlines’ MD-80s – workhorses since the 1980s in commercial aviation. “And if they’re not being followed to the letter as we discovered … of course we should have concern.”


     So should passengers be worried that the planes are unsafe?


     “No, we are finding the system working exactly like it should,” aviation analyst John Nance told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” pointing out that inspections now are keeping up with safety regulations enacted in the 1990s.


     “We didn’t know how to inspect older aircraft. Now we do. This is merely a correction to make sure as they ground safe airplanes, that they don’t become unsafe over time,” Nance told anchor Chris Cuomo March 27.


     CNN’s O’Brien did mention that “we’re in the midst of an incredibly safe period of time for American aviation” and that “something about the system must be working.”


     Nance hit at the FAA, however, saying, “The FAA, I think, pulled a boner with Southwest when they came out and [asked] for huge fines rather than admit that the FAA had problems in the way they had been dealing with it.”


     According to the March 27 New York Times, the FAA proposed a $10.2-million record penalty for Southwest Airlines March 6 for failing to keep up with FAA inspections of cracks in the fuselages of Boeing 737s. American Eagle, American, United Airlines and Delta have conducted voluntary inspections since then, according to the March 27 Los Angeles Times.


     The Southwest incident sparked an industry-wide audit of airline inspection records, meaning a lot of grounded planes for airlines with older aircraft.


     The Chicago Tribune reported March 27 that the FAA's acting administrator Robert Sturgell told inspectors last week to reconfirm all 116 U.S. airlines had completely abided by “every previous safety order,” including for MD-80s.

     American, which has the largest MD-80 fleet at around 300 aircraft, completed its inspection of its planes within the FAA’s 18-month deadline, but still decided to voluntarily recheck its planes again after FAA and American inspectors found wiring that could lead to future problems.


     "I think it's FAA inspectors scrambling to make sure they've got their paperwork up to snuff," aviation consultant Robert Mann told the Chicago Tribune.


     O’Brien isn’t the first journalists to attack airlines. They are a frequent target for media complaints, even when Americans are satisfied with the industry.