The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to question maintenance procedures at Fort Worth-based American Airlines Tuesday when the board holds hearings surrounding an engine fire that forced an American flight to make an emergency landing more than one year ago.
On Sept. 27, 2007, AA Flight 1400 made a dramatic return to St. Louis Lambert International Airport with one engine in flames. Photos released Monday by the NTSB show a large hole in the bottom of the engine. The pictures were taken shortly after firefighters used foam to extinguish the fire on an airport runway.
NTSB documents released Monday indicate the engine involved in the incident had repeated maintenance problems in the weeks leading up to the fire.
The report said a starter valve in the engine, "...was changed six times within 12 days" before the incident. Investigators also found that four times mechanics deferred maintenance on another part of that engine starter.
An NTSB official said Tuesday's hearings will likely raise questions about American's systems to monitor and prevent planes with repeat maintenance problems from being put back into service. The official asked not to be identified because the board had not yet convened its hearings.
The union that represents American Airlines pilots has criticized the airline for failing to ground the plane prior to the accident.
"That airplane was screaming that it had problems, but we kept replacing the starter motor. I'm no master mechanic but if I keep replacing the same part three or four times and you've got the same problem you start looking somewhere else," said union president Lloyd Hill.
In a brief filed with the NTSB, the union told NTSB investigators, "The air carrier's maintenance reliability program failed to identify and respond in a timely manner to a chronic mechanical aircraft problem."
American Airlines management said it is cooperating fully with the NTSB, but a spokesman declined Monday to address the specifics of the investigation.
"We've been actively involved, said Tim Smith, American Airlines spokesperson. "We're not going to do any point by point commenting until we hear what the actual NTSB hearing testimony out there is on the record."