FAA Reassigns Official Over Safety Lapse

April 8, 2008

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The US Federal Aviation Administration has reassigned a senior agency safety official days after whistle-blowers and a government watchdog told Congress about maintenance lapses and ineffective oversight at Southwest Airlines, the agency said on Monday.

Thomas Stuckey, the senior flight standards official for the US Southwest region, which includes Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, is now in an administrative post with no safety responsibilities, spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

Brown would not comment further about the matter.

Stuckey becomes the third FAA employee and the highest ranking official to be removed from their jobs over the Southwest controversy. Two Southwest maintenance officials have also been reassigned.

The FAA, Congress and the Transportation Department inspector general continue to investigate Southwest. Inspection lapses in 2006-07 prompted the FAA in March to propose a USD$10.2 million fine against the company, a record.

Maintenance practices at other airlines are also under investigation, the FAA has said.

Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department inspector general, told the House of Representatives Transportation Committee last Thursday that FAA oversight of Southwest was so cozy the agency allowed the carrier to violate safety orders repeatedly for years and put travelers at risk.

Scovel's investigation was based mainly on FAA inspectors who testified as whistle-blowers about sloppy record keeping, incomplete procedures and alleged indifference by superiors. They said their concerns were dismissed or not investigated and they alleged threats and other retaliation for speaking up.

The whistle-blower complaints, first disclosed by the Transportation Committee in March, led to a reexamination of Southwest maintenance records and the grounding of jets for missed structural cracks.

The heightened scrutiny of Southwest triggered a preliminary FAA audit of inspection records at all airlines that was completed last week. Other carriers, including American and Delta, grounded planes and canceled flights during the review.