Published On: Tue, Oct 2nd, 2012

FAA Probes Seats on Two American Flights

Federal air-safety regulators are investigating maintenance lapses that caused rows of passenger seats to come loose during a pair of flights on jets of AMR Corp.'s American Airlines over the past three days, according to industry and government officials.

Both planes, the officials said, were Boeing Co. 757 models that recently went through maintenance overhauls at an outside facility, though American's own mechanics later reworked some seats. The Federal Aviation Administration, among other things, is looking into why a dozen or more rows of seats on one of the planes were improperly secured after being removed for maintenance.

The airline said six of its other 757's have been temporarily grounded as a precaution.

Nobody was hurt in either incident and the planes landed safely at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The aircraft were being inspected Monday by officials from the carrier and the FAA.

The first incident, which occurred over the weekend, prompted pilots of American Flight 685, bound for Miami from Boston, to divert to New York after a row of seats in the coach cabin came loose. After landing, according to people familiar with the details, a dozen other rows were determined to be attached improperly to the cabin floor.

On Monday, according to these people, a second American Airlines jet, which had taken off roughly 30 minutes earlier from Kennedy Airport, experienced similar problems while airborne. The plane returned to the field. One person said three rows of seats were loosely or improperly attached in the cabin.

An FAA statement said the agency was looking into both flights. The statement added that "preliminary information indicates that a row of three seats in the coach cabin apparently became loose" on the weekend flight. All eight aircraft will stay on the ground until they are checked and fixed, if necessary.

An American spokeswoman confirmed the events and said they were similar. She added that the company was investigating them in cooperation with the FAA.

In a statement, the spokeswoman said that an internal investigation so far indicates "there could be a possible issue with a certain model of seats and how they fit into the tracking used to secure" them. As a precaution, the statement said, "American has decided to proactively reinspect eight 757s" that could have the same issue.

The American spokeswoman said the seats "were installed by American maintenance and contract maintenance" and noted that "the issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility" or group of workers. The carrier said that it flew engineers, inspectors and other employees to New York from its Tulsa maintenance base "to evaluate the aircraft and determine the next course of action to correct the problem."

The unusual events come amid continuing, high-profile labor-management clashes at the airline. American struggled last month with an increase in late and canceled flights spurred by pilot-initiated maintenance requests and a shortage of crew members amid a labor dispute. Last week, the airline's management sent a letter threatening to seek an injunction against its pilots union if it fails to take steps to "halt disruptions of operations by some [American] pilots."

The union, the Allied Pilots Association, has responded that it isn't sanctioning, condoning or encouraging any sort of job action. Union officials have said pilots are exercising proper caution in writing up maintenance problems and demanding that some must be fixed prior to departure.

American, the third-largest U.S. carrier by traffic, has been reeling from a high rate of maintenance write-ups-pilot notations for maintenance-as well as pilot sick leave since the airline won a bankruptcy judge's permission to throw out its pilots' contract and impose terms on the 10,000 aviators.

The turbulence comes in the wake of more than 60% of American pilots rejecting a tentative agreement in August.

American's operational performance deteriorated for much of September and the airline said it ended up with only 58% of its domestic flights arriving within 14 minutes of schedule for the month, compared with 82% the year before.

In response to a shortage of available pilots and planes out of service for maintenance, American has trimmed its flight schedule by as much as 2% through the end of October.

WSJ

By ANDY PASZTOR

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