FAA Could Ground Southwest Planes This Week

Airline faces Tuesday deadline

By Scott Friedman
|  Monday, Aug 31, 2009  |  Updated 5:20 PM CDT
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FAA Could Ground Southwest Planes This Week

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The airline could be forced to cancel flights this week.

Southwest Airlines could be forced to cancel flights and ground planes by Tuesday afternoon if the airline cannot reach agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration over unapproved parts that were discovered on dozens of the company's Boeing 737 jets. 

Lawyers for both sides continued to negotiate Monday night as the airline sought to avoid disruptions while continuing to make required repairs.

Federal inspectors discovered the parts last week and determined they do not present a safety threat. But the FAA may still force Southwest to ground the planes if the parts are not replaced before a Tuesday deadline.

On Monday, the airline suspended a contract maintenance firm -- D-Velco -- that got the parts from a subcontractor. 

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the agency has had numerous conversations with the airline over the last several days. 

"We are carefully considering a number of possible options and are working to reach a decision as soon as possible," Lunsford said. "It would be premature to speculate about the outcome."

Southwest Airlines said Monday that it was still too early to say whether the airline would have to cancel flights.

An airline spokesman said the company has already repaired 33 of the 82 planes involved, and repairs are continuing at airports across the country.

The part in question is called an exhaust gate assembly hinge fitting. It is designed to direct hot air from the engines away from the flaps on the rear of the wing, protecting the flaps from excessive heat.

FAA inspectors questioned the parts after finding they did not come with proper paperwork from the parts supplier, making it difficult to determine if they were built to FAA standards.

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