FAA Urges Southwest and Mechanics Union to Resolve Dispute

The ongoing feud between Southwest Airlines and its mechanics’ union is causing concern among federal officials.

The Associated Press has reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has sent a terse letter to the airline warning that the ongoing fight could impact Southwest’s safety program. The FAA letter also urged the two sides to cooperate in meeting FAA safety standards.

The letter comes on the heels of news that Southwest is spending millions of dollars each week on canceled flights and out-of-service jets.

The airline recently filed a lawsuit against the union in a federal district court in Dallas, claiming the union has been encouraging members to write-up minor maintenance issues in order to keep Southwest jets grounded and gain leverage in ongoing talks. The airline claims mechanics are writing up such things as missing row numbers and other cosmetic flaws. The union has denied the charges.

That dispute apparently escalated Friday, when the leader of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Associated said it filed a defamation lawsuit against Southwest and the airline’s CEO Gary Kelly.

The airline has been canceling flights on a daily basis because of grounded planes. Typically, the airline has about 20 planes out of service due to unexpected maintenance issues, but that number has doubled amid the union stand-off.

Last month, Southwest was forced to declare an “operational emergency” at several maintenance locations and demanded mechanics show up for work or be terminated.

Union officials are now asserting that Southwest is pressuring mechanics to overlook safety issues in order to keep planes flying.

Contract negotiations between Southwest and its mechanics’ union have been going on for six years.

In his letter Friday, FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Ali Bahrami, said the worsening relationship between Southwest and the union “raises concern about the ongoing effectiveness of the airline’s safety management system.”

Bahrami called on both sides to work together to meet FAA safety standards. According to the Associated Press, government and industry insiders described Bahrami’s letter as unusual.

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz however, painted a different picture, noting that it’s not unheard of for the FAA to emphasize safety “during such times at a carrier.”

“As always, we appreciate the FAA’s partnership and maintain our dedicated focus on assuring the highest level of compliance and safety,” he said.

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