FAA Issues Letter To Southwest Voicing Safety Concerns Over Labor Dispute
The current and very public labor dispute at Southwest Airlines has the top safety official at the FAA on edge. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, FAA's Ali Bahrami issued a letter to Southwest and its mechanics in an unusual move outlining the concerns held by the FAA.
In his letter, Mr. Bahrami stated that the FAA is worried that the current dispute between labor and management "raises concern about the ongoing effectiveness of the airline's safety management system." He went on to say he wanted "to emphasize the importance of ensuring cooperatively, in accordance with FAA standards, the highest level of safety in the airline's operations."
Last month Southwest declared an operational emergency when the number of out-of-service aircraft spiked, causing flight delays and numerous cancellations. The airline has claimed that the mechanics union — the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association — had engaged in a coordinated slowdown and removal of aircraft from service for minor cosmetic issues rather than issues related to flight safety.
While the union is denying any wrong doing, they are airing their own concerns about management. The union has stated that some members feel pressured to overlook issues in preference for keeping the aircraft operational and on time. The airline says they encourage employees to raise concerns and that it considers safety of the passengers above all else.
The dispute stems from the fact that the mechanics at Southwest haven't received a new contract. Ongoing negotiations have been dragging on for the past six years. The issues at the airline had already prompted the FAA to up their safety inspections of the airline during the past year after it found that the airline wasn't correctly calculating the total weight of checked bags being loaded onto aircraft.
While the letter didn't cite any specific incidents or actual lapses in safety at Southwest, it does make it clear that the FAA will be keeping a very close eye on the airline in the near future.
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