Coverage: The FAA is investigating Southwest over baggage weight issues
Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal had the news:
The Federal Aviation Administration’s yearlong civil probe, the documents show, found systemic and significant mistakes with employee calculations and luggage-loading practices, resulting in potential discrepancies when pilots compute takeoff weights. The findings have sparked concerns among some federal safety inspectors.
While in a few cases the FAA found the load was more than 1,000 pounds in excess of what airline paperwork indicated, Southwest has said its system carries minimal risk for passengers.
FAA inspectors and outside safety experts agree the greatest risks stem from potentially incorrect pilot responses to an engine emergency based on an inaccurate recording of the weight distribution between the plane’s front and rear cargo bays.
In an email to The Wall Street Journal last week, an FAA spokesman confirmed the investigation and said the agency has ordered “a comprehensive solution to the methods and processes used” by the airline. “The FAA will not close its investigation until it is satisfied that Southwest’s corrective actions are consistent and sustained,” the spokesman’s email added.
Dawn Gilbertson of USA Today reported that Southwest has been making changes to its weight system:
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline’s approach to calculating weight and balance — a detailed process that factors in the weight of bags, cargo and passengers and where they are positioned on the plane to help determine things like fuel needed and takeoff and landing speeds — has served it well for its 47-year history.
She said Southwest switched to a new system, approved by the FAA, in August 2017 to improve reliability, efficiencies and accuracy, and made more changes in 2018. This year, following a test at three airports in 2018, Southwest plans to start scanning each bag as it’s loaded onto the plane, a process in place at other airlines. The airline’s baggage handlers have been manually counting bags because Southwest’s technology priority the past few years was its new reservations system.
“While no system can ever be perfect, our weight and balance program is a proven, reliable system with checks and balances installed to ensure safe operations by any measure or standard,” King said in a statement.
Paul R. La Monica of CNNBusiness.com reported that there have been no accidents related to the issue:
The FAA has not linked any accidents to the weight discrepancies. But the agency said in its statement to CNN Business that it “will not close its investigation until it is satisfied that Southwest’s corrective actions are consistent and sustained.”The news of the FAA probe also comes as Southwest is grappling with an “operational emergency” due to a labor dispute with mechanics.Southwest said in a statement to CNN Business last Friday that the percentage of “out-of-service aircraft” with maintenance issues in its fleet had more than doubled in the past week.“We are requiring all hands on deck to address maintenance items so that we may promptly return aircraft to service,” a spokesperson for Southwest said in an email at the time.