Southwest Airlines Allowed to Fly Planes with 'Unapproved Parts'

The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing Southwest Airlines to fly with unapproved parts used to repair some of its jets, according to several published reports.

FAA officials say that the parts, used by a maintenance company hired by Southwest, are not considered an "immediate safety threat," the Huffington Post reported. They will be replaced, the story said, but in the meantime, the jets will keep flying for at least the next 10 days, while the company decides how to make the fixes.

The unapproved "exhaust gate assembly hinge fittings" were discovered last Friday during a routine FAA inspection of a facility that maintains planes for Southwest, the story said. The fittings are used to deflect hot engine exhaust away from wing flaps; Southwest uses Boeing 737's, have an engine on each wing.

Federal regulations prohibit knowingly operating a plane with unapproved parts, so the discovery led Southwest to ground 46 planes for several hours last Saturday, causing widespread delays and 15 canceled flights, the Huffington Post story said. Although the parts were made by a subcontractor unauthorized to make the parts, engineers determined the parts meet safety standards, making the planes safe to fly temporarily.

"The parts have to come off the planes, it's just a matter of how quickly that has to be done," said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford told the Huffington Post. "Unapproved parts don't belong on airplanes."

Earlier this year, Dallas-based Southwest agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle FAA allegations that the airline flew planes that missed required structural examinations, even after being alerted to the missed inspections.

Southwest flies more than 100 million U.S. passengers a year, more than any other airline.
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