During the government shutdown, Federal Aviation Administration employees were among the thousands of furloughed federal employees. Because of the shutdown, safety inspections for airlines were halted by the FAA.
For all airlines but one.
According to Market Watch, Southwest Airlines got around the furlough drawback and managed to get some much-needed safety inspections on three jets by paying one FAA employee to return to work for $3,150.
The employee just had to come into work for three hours of paperwork, as most of the administrative paperwork had already been done before the shutdown began.
“The FAA and Southwest entered into a reimbursable agreement to provide minimal time to complete aircraft certification services,” an agency spokesman told Market Watch in an email.
“These services were completed only after meeting immediate operational safety needs.”
The unusual agreement included having FAA managers and lawyers sitting down with the airline to create a formal agreement. Ultimately, they agreed to move forward because “the move complied with laws and regulations restricting agency functions while the budget impasse dragged on.”
It paid off as Southwest Airlines got their three Boeing Co. 737 MAX jets approved, however, not without some concerns by union officials and other airlines.
The inspector who completed the paperwork was worried about his instructions for the safety inspection and asked his union, the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, for guidance.
Market Watch hinted that this stunt had other airlines upset as they were unsuccessful in getting FAA to budge on their safety inspections. For instance, Delta Air Lines postponed the debut of four Airbus SE A220 aircraft because FAA inspectors weren’t available.
Union officials also complained that they “weren’t consulted as required and that the arrangement appeared to represent favorable treatment for Southwest at the expense of competitors.”
“I have never heard of anything like that before,” said Ray Morgan, a veteran FAA inspector and manager who serves as a union representative.
He added that with this agreement, it allowed Southwest “to get an advantage over the rest of the industry,” especially at a time when everyone was suffering during the shutdown.
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