Monday, June 28, 2010

Gary Stoller of USA TODAY reveals planes with maintenance problems have flown anyway

Planes with maintenance problems have flown anyway
A jet takes off from Indianapolis in this 2000 file photo. Since 2003, 65,000 U.S. flights with maintenance problems have taken off anyway.
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

Alerted by a brake warning light in the cockpit, the captain on a U.S. airline flight last August warned passengers he was making an emergency landing and called for firetrucks to be standing by.

The trucks weren't needed, it turned out. The Boeing 767-300 jet landed safely, the pilot said in his account to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows airline employees to report incidents confidentially and without identifying the airline or the flight.

The pilot reported that he later was told by mechanics that the incident was caused by a landing-gear wheel that was missing a part and had been installed incorrectly.

The passengers on the unidentified international flight were on a jet that should never have left the ground. Improper repair work made it unsafe to fly. It was no isolated incident.

During the past six years, millions of passengers have been on at least 65,000 U.S. airline flights that shouldn't have taken off because planes weren't properly maintained, a six-month USA TODAY investigation has found.

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The investigation — which included an analysis of government fines against airlines for maintenance violations and penalty letters sent to them that were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act — reveals that substandard repairs, unqualified mechanics and lax oversight by airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are not unusual...

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