The Department of Transportation (DOT) is making some harsh claims regarding Southwest's safety practices. A scathing report that was released last week from the Department of Transportation Inspector General's office calls into question the airline's safety practices and culture. In addition, the DOT is pointing a finger at inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for their lax attitudes toward Southwest's practices.
The DOT's report creates some pretty bad optics for the airline that carries more passengers than any other carrier in the United States. Some of the specific allegations are quite damaging. Here are some quick takes from the DOT's report:
- Southwest carried more than 17 million passengers on more than 150,000 flights using used 737s that were in unknown airworthiness states.
- Southwest failed to properly certify some used planes that were purchased.
- Southwest flew used planes that were purchased without repairing or addressing significant maintenance issues that would have disqualified them from service.
- FAA inspectors assigned to monitor Southwest regularly signed off on paperwork without conducting inspections.
- FAA inspections were routinely conducted by FAA designees who were actually Southwest employees with special authorization instead of actual FAA inspectors.
- Many maintenance records for used planes acquired by Southwest were never translated into English after the airline obtained them.
- Southwest repeatedly failed to fix a widespread practice of significantly miscalculating the weight and balance data critical to an aircraft's performance.
- Many of the foreign 737s acquired by Southwest were certified in a single day.
- Southwest officials failed to report individual or clustered safety violations.
- The FAA failed to provide its own inspectors with the guidance necessary for overseeing Southwest's safety management system.
All of this is very difficult for anyone who has flown with Southwest regularly within the past few years to read. Oversight failures may have put millions of passengers in danger. Passengers will need to stay tuned to see if and how Southwest responds to these very harsh allegations.