FAA proposes $9.3 million in fines against Boeing, Southwest

Southwest Boeing 737

For the second time in five weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a multi-million dollar penalty against Boeing for allegedly installing improperly manufactured components on the wings of some of its 737s.

The latest penalty proposal, announced by FAA late Friday afternoon, is $5.4 million for allegedly installing noncomforming slat tracks on approximately 178 737 MAX aircraft. The aircraft subsequently were presented as ready for airworthiness certification. The slat tracks guide the slats, which provide additional lift on takeoff and landing. The slats and tracks are installed on the leading edge of the 737’s wings.

On Dec. 6, FAA proposed a $3.9 million penalty against Boeing for installing nonconforming slat tracks on 133 737NG aircraft.

The FAA alleged Friday that Boeing failed to adequately oversee its suppliers to ensure they complied with the company’s quality assurance system and that it was this failure that resulted in the defective components being installed. The slats were weakened by a condition known as hydrogen embrittlement that occurred during a plating process when they were manufactured.

The FAA also alleges that Boeing knowingly submitted the affected aircraft for final airworthiness certification after determining the parts could not be used due to a failed strength test.

Boeing said Friday, “We are aware of today’s proposed civil penalty by the FAA, which concerns a nonconforming batch of slat track assemblies on 737 MAX airplanes that were the subject of a service bulletin and airworthiness directive issued last year. We are working closely with our customers to take the appropriate corrective actions consistent with the Airworthiness Directive.”

The manufacturer also said it will make sure that all inspections and any necessary part replacements are performed on all 737 MAXs before they return to service and that the company has not been informed of any in-service issues related to the slat tracks.

The 737 MAX has been grounded worldwide since March following two fatal crashes related to a flight control system installed on the aircraft.

Also on Friday, FAA proposed a $3.9 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for allegedly operating 44 aircraft on more than 21,500 flights with incorrect calculations of weight and balance data.

FAA said that between May 1, 2018, and Aug. 9, 2019, the aircraft were operated with incorrect operational empty weights and center of gravity or movement data. The weight-related information is used with other data in determining how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried, as well as where cargo must be located.

Southwest said Friday that the proposed penalty pertains to data processing issues that occurred while transferring aircraft weight information from one Southwest computer system to other computer systems in the spring of 2018. A spokesperson said the issues were identified and reported by Southwest to the FAA in late July 2018 and fully resolved in early August 2018.

“Since discovering the data discrepancy in 2018, in coordination with the FAA, Southwest has enhanced its weight and balance program by implementing additional controls to strengthen the process of managing aircraft weight data in our systems. We continue to monitor the performance of our weight and balance program closely to support our unwavering commitment to safety, compliance, and continuous improvement.”

Once Boeing and Southwest receive their enforcement letters from the FAA, they will have 30 days to respond to the agency.

Southwest said it will continue working with the FAA to demonstrate the effectiveness of its controls and processes and “seek to achieve an effective and appropriate resolution to this proposed penalty.”