FAA Nears Decision on Possible Fines Against American Airlines

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to decide soon whether to fine American Airlines for maintenance problems that forced the airline to temporarily ground planes in 2008.

An industry source tells NBCDFW a decision could come as early as March. Speculation surrounding fines swelled again in recent days after reports from the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal suggesting fines against the Fort Worth based airline are imminent. An F.A.A. spokesman told the AP that the investigation is not complete and declined comment.
Late last year, the F.A.A. told NBCDFW that the case was still under consideration and that the investigative files were in the hands of agency attorneys who will help determine the size of any possible fines.
Technically speaking, the dollar amount could be in the tens of millions or more, because the F.A.A. has the power to assess a separate penalty for each flight involving a plane that did not meet federal requirements. The investigation involves hundreds of planes, grounded after FAA inspectors discovered improper wiring repairs.

But, industry observers widely expect the government may settle on a fine less than the size of the technical penalty. A.P. reports the fine will likely be in the same ballpark as the $10.2 million the agency proposed against Dallas-based Southwest Airlines in March 2008. That report cited government and industry officials.
American spokesman Tim Wagner told the A.P. the airline isn't aware of any pending fine. American has long argued that the wiring in question never jeopardized the safety of planes or passengers.
The nearly two year investigation started in April of 2008, when inspectors discovered wiring was not properly secured on 290 MD-80 airplanes. The airline was forced to ground the planes while repairs were made, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded or delayed.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department is soon expected to release an audit that criticizes the F.A.A. for lax oversight of maintenance at American. With government offices closed in Washington D.C. because of a snowstorm, it was unclear Wednesday exactly when that report might be released.

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