Southwest disputes U.S. government audit on safety lapses, shares slide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) on Thursday disputed the findings of a draft U.S. government audit that claimed the U.S. carrier failed to prioritize safety by flying millions of passengers on used jets whose documentation made it impossible for regulators to determine if required maintenance had been completed.

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Southwest shares slid 2.2%, hit by concerns about the coronavirus outbreak along with findings of U.S. Department of Transportation, reported here by the Wall Street Journal, which also criticized the FAA’s oversight of the airline’s safety procedures.

“We have communicated our disappointment in the draft audit report to the Office of Inspector General and will continue to communicate any concerns directly with its office,” Southwest said in a statement. “Any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is absolutely unfounded.”

The report said also that in 2019, a Southwest jet smashed both wingtips on a runway while repeatedly trying to land amid gale-force winds.

The report said Southwest flew more than 17 million passengers over two years on planes with unconfirmed maintenance documentation on numerous Boeing 737 planes it had acquired from foreign carriers, the newspaper reported.

Southwest said Thursday that all of the 88 (BA.N) 737 used planes cited in the inspector general’s report “have either completed a comprehensive physical inspection, from nose to tail, or are currently in the inspection phase.”

Southwest added it “has completed a thorough review of 75 aircraft and we are in the process of inspecting the remaining 13 aircraft which are currently in heavy checks.”

Southwest said some repairs by prior owners “had been performed but not properly classified by the previous owners due to differences in language and repair criteria.” The FAA said in November inspections of 39 used planes turned up previously undisclosed repairs and incorrectly completed fixes.

An FAA spokesman told Reuters Thursday the agency would respond directly to the inspector general’s office. The inspector general is still awaiting the FAA’s written response to the draft report and anticipates releasing the report within a few weeks, an official briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The planes were bought between 2013 and 2017 from 16 foreign carriers.

Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly met with Inspector General Calvin Scovel in September at the airline’s request as the audit investigation was underway, the official confirmed.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Arun Koyyur and David Gregorio

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