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American Airlines facing record fine over maintenance lapses

DALLAS – Federal officials are seeking a record penalty of $24.2 million against American Airlines over maintenance lapses that caused thousands of canceled flights in 2008.

American said the civil penalty was unwarranted and it would appeal.

The dispute dates to 2008, when American had to cancel more than 3,000 flights – inconveniencing 350,000 passengers – until wiring could be fixed to the satisfaction of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA said Thursday that the improper harnessing of wires on American’s McDonnell Douglas MD-80-series jets – about half its fleet at the time – could have led to fires and even fuel-tank explosions. It said American flew more than 14,000 flights with planes that didn’t meet the wiring requirements.

American has claimed all along that the FAA’s concerns were overblown and that passenger safety was never jeopardized.

“These events happened more than two years ago, and we believe this action is unwarranted,” said American spokesman Tim Smith. “We are confident we have a strong case and the facts will bear this out.”

Airlines routinely challenge FAA penalties or negotiate to reduce them.

American officials have said the current dispute is over a minor matter of leaving too much space between sleeves that hold bundles of wire together.

The FAA imposed the wiring rule after three operators reported electrical shorting in wires looped through the MD-80’s wheel wells. The rules required mechanics to follow a 28-step process for securing wires to prevent them from rubbing together.

If upheld, the penalty against American would top the previous record of $9.5 million that the FAA levied against Eastern Airlines in 1987 for delaying required maintenance work. Eastern went out of business after paying only about $1 million.


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