A draft government report obtained by The Wall Street Journal says that Southwest Airlines neglected to prioritize safety and that the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t been enough of a watchdog.
Over about two years, the airline sent more than 17 million passengers on planes without confirmed maintenance records, according to the Journal report. USA TODAY has reached out to the Department of Transportation and its Office of the Inspector General, which prepared the report.
In one instance, both wingtips of a jet smashed into the runway while attempting to land in heavy winds . The report claims that the FAA’s process served to “justify continued noncompliance with safety regulations.”
“It is clear that the agency is not yet effectively navigating the balance between industry collaboration and managing safety risks at the carrier,” according to the draft of the report obtained by the Journal. The report is expected to come out as early as the end of the week or as late as mid-February.
“We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the Office of Inspector General (OIG),” Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish told USA TODAY in a statement. “Southwest maintains a culture of compliance, recognizing the safety of our operation as the most important thing we do.”
“As part of our safety culture, we have a transparent relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which includes an FAA-approved safety management system designed to manage and mitigate operational risks and execute safe operating programs and practices,” the statement continued.
Parrish concluded the statement, “The success of our business depends on the safety of our operation, and, while we work to improve each and every day, any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is unfounded.”
Lynn Lunsford, spokesperson for the FAA, told USA TODAY: “We will respond directly to the Office of Inspector General.”
The report raises concerns beyond Southwest, the Journal notes, saying the FAA should critique safety culture at each airline and give its inspectors the right tools to do so. Southwest was not always forthcoming in providing the FAA with safety information, per interview excerpts in the report with FAA officials.
Southwest dealing with 737 Max issues, too
The Journal report comes as Southwest and other airlines have been dealing with fallout from the March 2019 grounding of the Boeing 737 Max. Southwest, American and United, the three U.S. airlines that had the Boeing 737 Max in their fleets, have had to constantly juggle schedules.
Southwest had 34 Maxes in its fleet at the grounding – more than any carrier – and has another 27 that were built and supposed to be delivered last year, sitting in storage at Boeing.
Southwest’s flight schedule currently has the plane returning in early June, but that timetable will likely be pushed into late summer or fall given Boeing’s revised timetable, for the expected ungrounding.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson