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US: American Airlines Hit
By $7.1 Million in Fines

by PAULO PRADA and ANDY PASZTORWall Street Journal
August 15th, 2008

The Federal Aviation Administration, proposing one of its biggest penalties ever, said it plans to fine AMR Corp.'s American Airlines $7.1 million for allegedly violating employee drug- and alcohol-testing procedures and knowingly flying airplanes that broke maintenance regulations.

The fines, unrelated to the groundings of American jetliners earlier this year, are the latest in a series of clashes between airlines and the agency that oversees them. The latest problems aren't considered to have been serious threats to aviation safety, but they reflect persistent problems in supervising and documenting maintenance work that airlines and the agency once treated as routine.

The fine proposed Thursday covers four different enforcement actions by the agency. The largest portion of the fine, amounting to $4.1 million, stems from allegations that American's mechanics failed to properly identify and fix certain problems with malfunctioning autopilots and other systems in December 2007. In the most serious instance, the airline used a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft on several flights with a malfunctioning autopilot.

The agency alleges that even after an FAA inspector alerted the airline about the problem, the airline used the plane to carry passengers on 10 more flights before it was taken out of service. In total, the FAA said American flew passengers on 58 flights in aircraft that weren't fit for service.

The FAA also alleged that American operated more than 320 flights in 2005 and 2006 without doing mandatory checks of emergency cabin-floor lighting at the proper times. The FAA also said that between 2005 and 2007 the airline failed to properly oversee drug tests for flight attendants and a smaller number of mechanics. In some cases, employees knew beforehand that they would be tested, the agency said.

In a statement, American said, "We do not agree with the FAA's findings and characterizations of American's action in these cases. We believe the proposed penalties are excessive." In line with FAA procedures, the airline said it would meet with agency officials to discuss the issues and proposed fines.

The FAA's latest move is part of a more-aggressive stance the agency has taken in recent months in pursuing investigations and seeking fines over lapses that in the past might have been quietly handled.

Earlier this year, the FAA proposed a fine of $10.2 million, its largest ever, against Southwest Airlines Co. for flying aircraft that hadn't undergone mandated structural inspections. In March, after prodding by the FAA over wiring maintenance that had to be redone in the landing gears of American's fleet of 300 MD-80 aircraft, the airline grounded the planes, stranding thousands of passengers. Delta Air Lines Inc. also reinspected about 117 of its planes because of similar wiring concerns.

Write to Paulo Prada at and Andy Pasztor at

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