American Airlines must re-pack the rear evacuation slides on all of its MD-80 jets, after discovering damage that could have prevented slides on some planes from inflating in an emergency.
The MD-80 is the most common plane in the company's fleet, with more than 250 in service.
FAA spokesperson Laura Brown said cracks were discovered in the tubes used to inflate the slides on a handful of planes. The cracks occurred when the airline failed to use a tool that protects the tubes when the slides are packed for use on the planes.
Brown said the airline immediately replaced the damaged slides, but the FAA is now requiring the company to take corrective action to prevent problems on the rest of the planes. "They will be re-packing all of them over the next month", Brown said, "They need to be able to demonstrate that all units were properly packed". Brown said it is too early to say whether the slide problems will prompt the FAA to take enforcement action against the airline.
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A company spokesman, Charley Wilson, tells NBC5 the airline, "discovered and replaced a handful of slides" but says the inspections did not disrupt the company's flight schedule or inconvenience passengers. "In the days ahead, Wilson said, "we will remain closely aligned with the FAA, as we re-pack the tail cone slides using the precisely prescribed tool." The company noted that there have been no in-flight problems with the slides.
It's the second time in two weeks American has faced questions about safety equipment on its planes. As NBC5 first reported, the company has restricted the number of passengers on board its 767 aircraft, because of concerns that the life rafts on board were not big enough to accommodate all passengers.
In 2008, a dispute between the FAA and American forced the grounding of all of the company's MD-80's, after the agency raised concerns about the company's compliance with a maintenance directive dealing with wiring on those airplanes. The mass grounding led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights, and left hundreds of thousands of travelers stuck at airports across the country.