The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has threatened Southwest Airlines, an owner of over 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, to ground 38 of the jets due to concerns related to their operational history, namely performed maintenance while they were flown by other airlines from outside the United States.

Investigators from the United States Congress and the United States Department of Transportation inspector general office are increasingly critical of the FAA and Southwest Airlines. The used aircraft that the carrier has incorporated into its fleet from 2013 to 2017, totaling to 88 Boeing 737s, or more than 10% of the low-cost carrier’s fleet, do not, allegedly, meet the FAA’s airworthiness standards, states a letter sent by H. Clayton Foushee, Director of the Office of Audit and Evaluation to the administrator of the FAA Steve Dickson on October 24, 2019.

At the forefront of the problem is the fact that Southwest Airlines found several aircraft with substandard or improper repairs done on the jets by their previous owners overseas. Furthermore, the paperwork about the aforementioned repairs is unreliable, meaning that neither the FAA nor Southwest can confirm for sure the second-hand 737s meet all safety requirements, including incomplete translations of maintenance records.

38 aircraft were only allowed to fly after the FAA and the airline agreed that the latter will complete the required checks on the Boeing 737 aircraft by January 31, 2020. The previous deadline was on July 1, 2020, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Foushee urged the agency to “take immediate action to either suspend or revoke the airworthiness certificates of the remaining” jets that are yet to be checked “nose to tail”. Foushee estimated that 49 jets do not meet FAA’s airworthiness requirements.

Southwest Airlines’ spokesperson told AeroTime that the U.S. based agency sent a letter to the carrier on October 29, 2019, about the aforementioned aircraft. The low-cost carrier proceeded to conduct a Safety Risk Analysis “on documentation associated with 41 pre-owned aircraft,” that have gone through comprehensive inspections within two days and the results were presented to the FAA. Within seven days, Southwest Airlines had to perform and provide a Safety Risk Analysis on 38 aircraft that “are currently scheduled for full inspections” and also send the results of the analysis to the agency in Washington, D.C.

“We have completed the Safety Risk Analyses and inspections and found no deviations that would adversely impact safety of flight and continue to follow all regulatory requirements”.

This is not the first time Southwest Airlines might have to ground aircraft due to the paperwork shortcomings of its second-hand aircraft. In November 2018, on Thanksgiving eve, the U.S. carrier voluntarily grounded 34 Boeing 737-700 aircraft. The grounding had minimal effect on the airlline's operations, it told AeroTime at the time. 

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One of the largest U.S. carriers, Southwest Airlines, grounded 34 Boeing 737-700 aircraft on Thanksgiving eve after discovering shortcomings in maintenance documents, which fall short to FAA safety requirements.