Actually, I do know exactly what FAA told SWA, and I also know what the FAA has said regarding the FORMER FAA Supervisory Principal Maintenance Inspector who allowed it to continue in violation of the FARs. He is no longer overseeing airlines. I also know there are no exceptions to grounding after self-disclosure for AD non-compliance. Check the rules, my friend.
With regard to the FORMER, NTSB inspector (Greg Feith) HIRED by SWA, well, hired guns often say whatever you want them to say, since you are paying them after all. However, if you read what Mr. Feith said, he never actually commented on the fact that there are no exceptions for flying past an AD. In a carefully worded statement, he basically said (in perfect 20/20 hindsight) that the airplanes were OK as we sit here one year later, and they very obviously didn't come apart in mid-air. However, that is neither the point, nor a valid safety compliance argument.
The problem is unless you do mandatory AD inspections, you have no clue whether they are OK or not. That is the purpose of the rule. I repeat, there are NO exceptions allowed in the FARs for overflying ADs, after you become aware of them and especially after you have self-disclosed them. While SWA only flew them 8 days past their self-disclosure to FAA, they were actually overdue by up to 30 months for the AD in question.
If after years of experience with these inspections on B-737s, we find that the AD, as currently written, is unnecessary or too rigorous, then a rule change could be undertaken. However, there is a process for that, and there is no excuse for violating the rules as currently written. It is a plain and simple violation.
BTW, I beat you by 4 years--I've been doing this for 29 (wink).
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The real bottom line is this: Had SWA grounded the airplanes in question until they completed all the inspections AND on the same date the airline disclosed the non-compliance to the FAA, there would have been NO story. Thus, it is rather ridiculous to charge some sort of government or political "conspiracy" here.
Of course, they would have had to explain the schedule disruption to their customers, and it would have caused lost revenue. However, in a "cost-benefit" analysis, which would have been more damaging? My guess is that the airline maintenance officials involved didn't expect to get caught.
Has this occurred at other airlines? Yes, no doubt, but it is the FAA's job to find as many of these as possible. It is the core reason that commercial airline travel is so safe. You are far more likely to be injured in your bathtub, than on any commercial aircraft in the U.S.
However, the very reason airline travel is so safe is that the rules are incredibly rigorous, and must remain rigorously ENFORCED! I am hopeful and reasonably confident that SWA will benefit from this in the long run, and that the safety of the traveling public will benefit too.
Every now and then both the FAA and the airlines need a "wake-up call." This served that purpose, and it is far more productive to be proactively enforcing the rules BEFORE an accident happens rather than reacting to a horrible tragedy.
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This is a very complex issue, but let me try to bring it down to the simplest and most accurate terms.
1) Yes, SWA did self-disclose the Airworthiness Directive (AD) non-compliance.
2) Under the rules governing self-disclosure (FAA Advisory Circular AC 00-58A), the carrier must answer the following question: Did the non-compliance cease upon the date of disclosure? SWA answered yes.
3) The non-compliance did not cease upon the date of disclosure of non-compliance. The continued to fly the airplanes from the March 15 disclosure until March 23.
4) There is no grace period for AD compliance after you have disclosed the non-compliance.
5) No one, not the FAA Administrator, not Boeing, or the even the President has the authority to waive those Federal rules, and certainly not an FAA Supervisory Maintenance Inspector.
6) Thus, Boeing's so-called statement cited by SWA was meaningless and carries no weight. It was a matter of Federal law......there are no exceptions allowed.
6) The self-disclosure required an immediate grounding of the 46 airplanes as of the date of disclosure. At that point, they were no longer legal to carry passengers.
Thus, the issue is one of the illegality of flying the airplanes for a number of days after discovering the problem. It is really very black and white. Discovery of non-compliance with an AD requires immediate grounding until the inspections were completed.......not a even one hour later, and certainly not 1451 flights and 8 days later.
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