Southwest gets more time to fix planes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

DALLAS -- Federal officials are giving Southwest Airlines until Dec. 24 to replace unapproved parts on about 50 airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that the parts do not prevent safe operation of the planes. The jets' manufacturer, Boeing Co., had reached the same conclusion.

The FAA will let Southwest fly the planes as long as they are inspected every seven days and the unapproved part on the wings is replaced by Dec. 24.

The planes make up about 10 percent of Southwest's fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft.

The FAA also directed Southwest to find and dispose of any other unapproved parts made by the same company and report results of its aircraft inspections every day.

Southwest had faced a Tuesday deadline and the threat of grounding some planes for the second time in less than two weeks. It grounded 46 planes on Aug. 22 -- the day after an FAA inspector discovered the use of the unapproved parts -- causing flight delays and some cancelations.

A maintenance company hired by Southwest used parts that hadn't been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration on more than 80 of Southwest's Boeing jets since 2006. Southwest has replaced the parts on about 30 planes.

The parts are designed to deflect hot engine exhaust away from the wings.

Southwest suspended the maintenance company, D-Velco, a unit of aviation parts maker Northstar Aerospace. D-Velco had hired a subcontractor to make the parts, but that subcontractor isn't approved for the work by the FAA.

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