American Airlines grounded its entire fleet of MD-80 jets to check wiring on the planes. As I write this, 325 flights are canceled.
Delta, also with a sizable MD-80 and -90 fleet, canceled several hundred flights for the same reason.
Earlier in the week, United took a number of its 747s out of service, also to perform maintenance checks, “to ensure compliance with federal maintenance standards.” All of a sudden? “The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the temporary groundings after discovering that test equipment used at a South Korea maintenance station was faulty.”
What’s going on?
After Southwest’s brief grounding of more than 40 737-300 jets because of possible damage to the aircraft’s metallic “skin,” the FAA is cracking down on maintenance. The agency “recently launched spot checks of compliance with safety requirements for all U.S. airlines.”
Well, good. After apparently not doing enough spot checking, the agency is playing catch-up. It’s encouraging, I suppose, that the inspections are being done now. But what does that mean for recent flights, like those, say, a week before these recent groundings? Wasn’t maintenance taken seriously before? Were you taking a risk?
There probably wasn’t much risk to passengers, frankly. I always comfort myself with the notion that the pilots are as much at risk as passengers. If they’re willing to get on board, then so am I.
But, as a matter of principle, I prefer that my airlines don’t cut corners and don’t skimp on maintenance. I also prefer that my government’s regulatory bodies do their job and actually keep companies under scrutiny in a clear, defined, and above all consistent manner. That clearly didn’t happen. And that is what needs to be addressed. The sky isn’t falling, but things could sure be better.
The airlines affected are canceling flights wholesale today, though they promise to be back on schedule soon. That’s the immediate bad news for travelers today. The fact that regulation has been haphazard is frankly of greater concern.