Southwest Airlines Declares Operational Emergency
Southwest Airlines is dealing with 40 aircraft out of service per day, a number that has doubled in recent weeks, leaving the airline to declare an “operational emergency.”
With about five percent of their fleet out of service, the company is calling upon all its employees to minimize the impact on traveler plans.
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“We are requiring all hands on deck to address maintenance items so that we may promptly return aircraft to service,” the airline said in a statement.
The carrier may have to call in workers on overtime and will require doctor’s notes from those who claim they’re sick. For those who refuse to report for duty, they could face firing.
“This is not the type of communication I (or any leader) want to issue, but it is necessary to get our aircraft back in service in order to serve our customers,” according to the memo from Lonnie Warren, senior director of technical operations.
The unusually high number of planes out of service are due to a range of issues “with no common theme among the reported items,” said the airline in a statement.
For instance, Southwest had to inspect 22 Boeing 737 engine fuel pump filter seals or O-rings due to a maintenance issue that the airline alerted the FAA about. The airline completed the repairs and all of the planes have returned to service.
Some believe the airline’s out of service aircraft problems directly relate to the contract talks Southwest is involved in with the members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. The union represents 2,700 Southwest workers and has been in contract negotiations with the airline for six years.
The union’s national director, Bret Oestreich posted a statement on the union’s website on Friday, citing Southwest as the cause of their “operational emergency.”
“This declaration … occurs just (11) days after a CBS News report detailing the efforts of Southwest maintenance to resist coercive pressure to ignore aircraft damage and the FAA’s confirmation of the degraded safety culture at Southwest,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, Southwest’s response has been to increase the level of coercion and further degrade safety. Southwest operates with the lowest ratio of technicians-to-aircraft of any major carrier.”
He told mechanics “not to be baited into acts of defiance that will be characterized as insubordination. We must follow the adage ‘work now, grieve later.’ Work hard, be productive, and let us get those broken planes back into service in an airworthy condition.”
Oestreich stressed, “We are only asking that we be permitted to perform our job in accordance with federal law – nothing more and nothing less.”