On Monday, February 6, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a $1.15 million fine against United Airlines for conducting flights that were not considered airworthy. These flights were operated from June 2018 to April 2021 in multiple Boeing 777 aircraft. The FAA accused United Airlines of removing an essential safety measure, their fire system warning check that must be completed before taking off.
According to the Airplane Flying Handbook by the FAA, the purpose of the preflight assessment is to ensure that the airplane meets airworthiness standards and is safe to operate. Airworthiness means that the aircraft's components meet the airplane's type and design.
FAA regulations state that the crew should check every twenty-four hours to ensure everything works. According to the FAA, the airline operated over 100,000 flights without performing this required preflight check. Therefore, this careless act of rushing the flight along put passengers at risk.
"The inspection is required in the maintenance specifications manual. Removal of the check resulted in United's failure to perform the required check and the operation of aircraft that did not meet airworthiness requirements," FAA said in a statement.
On April 19, 2021, an FAA aviation safety inspector discovered that United Airlines' fire warning system check was not being performed. The FAA notified the airline of this, but no change was made. Ignoring the check went on for another three and a half years until they were recently exposed and served a hefty fine.
United Airlines released a statement on Tuesday, February 7, claiming that the safety of their flights was never in question. The airline claimed they changed their preflight checklist in 2018 to account for the redundant built-in checks performed automatically by the 777. According to United Airlines, the FAA reviewed and approved the change in their preflight check.
Removing this check from the mandated procedure resulted in the airline failing to perform safety inspections for the three years since they changed their policy. United believed the FAA approved this update, but the recent fine proves differently.
This is not the first time United Airlines has faced a fine from the FAA. In 2017, the airline was accused of flying a plane twenty-three times without inspecting a repair. They faced up to a $435,000 fine. The FAA claimed that the airline flew a Boeing 787 passenger plane that was potentially unsafe nearly two dozen times before it was taken out of the flight rotation in 2014.
United Airlines ignoring essential checks is familiar and continues to be a persistent issue. Mechanics replaced a fuel pump pressure switch two days after a service request was placed. The plane was then returned to service after the replacement but without the required inspection that the work was completed.
This large of a fine is rare for the FAA to request. According to the FAAs Legal Enforcement Actions, with civil penalty actions, the penalty ranges from $1,100 to $27,500, depending on what is being violated and for how long. This violation was addressed and ignored, resulting in the FAA cracking down and initiating a penalty that brought attention to the issue.
United Airlines has thirty days to respond to the FAA after receiving an enforcement letter.
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