SouthWestAirlines giving priority to on-time performance over safety, or a number of reports on NBC News.
The focus: Southwest coercion of its mechanics is to turn a blind eye to aircraft safety issues. The smoking gun turned up, and the evidence transcrip and revealed in this article.
The NBC pieces are, in turn, based on a YouTube video produced by whistleblower attorney Lee Seham of New York, which relies exclusively on FAA and SWA sources, including an FAA investigative report from September 2017, which determined that the airline’s policy of coercive practices directed at its aircraft mechanics “appears as a tool used to influence a relaxing of standards, to look the other way, or to gain a degree of approval through a leniency of standards.”
NBC reported that Southwest Airlines declined to provide a spokesperson to be interviewed. Nevertheless, the network indicated that there was no evidence that SWA had operated aircraft in revenue service in an unairworthy condition.
A more careful review of the documents excerpted in the Seham video reveals that such evidence does exist in the form of transcript of a December 6, 2017 presentation to the Southwest maintenance staff by Vice President of Maintenance Operations Landon Nitschke in which Nitschke concedes: “sometimes we hide our compliance issues under the Warrior Spirit, right?”
Vice President of Technical Operations Trevor Stedke is quoted in the transcript as concurring with Nitschke’s judgment that there is a profound problem with Southwest’s maintenance culture:
“There is a perception, I think from some, that all On Time Performance trumps compliance. And our expectation as a Leadership Team is that we really want On-Time Performance higher than compliance. … We say compliance but it’s kind of a wink, wink, you know, make sure you get the airplane out, and that’s, nothing can be further from the truth.”
In terms of the operational issues arising from Southwest’s degraded safety culture, Stedke is quoted as providing the following troubling specifics:
“We’ve had several examples recently. Everything from calls to the FAA in DC, to AD over flies, engine operation. We had a wing that flew around [that] was damaged from an unknown period of time with of course nothing documented.
We’ve been through a dent program. We’ve had several dents found to be non-compliant, re-worked without anything documented in our maintenance systems. Damage events, lockout, carryout.
And you all know that the list goes on and on about several things that examples of where we’re bypassing or policies and procedures and we have got to get that rectified and cleaned up if we have any hope of getting ETOPS and maintain ETOPS in the future.”
Without the referenced ETOPS approval, Southwest will be unable to enter lucrative Hawaiian markets.
The SWA transcript quotes Nitschke as announcing that Southwest, literally, will be singing a new tune in 2018:
“So big effort this year. We definitely need to repair some things with the FAA not only as a Company, but, I think, as people. I think there are some things with, you know, AMTs getting questioned. Supervisors certainly getting questioned. Those are things we want to get into. We want to make sure that we handle that at a Company level, so again, compliance, compliance, compliance is going to be our theme song for 2018.”
Nitschke’s comment raises the question as to what the Company’s theme song was in 2017. SWA has the lowest mechanic to aircraft ratio of any major U.S. airline. Maybe it is time to hire some more mechanics and refrain from coercing the few that they have.