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FAA wants Southwest Airlines to pay $12 million penalty for sloppy maintenance

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The FAA is seeking a $12 million fine against Southern Airlines after finding that the Dallas-based airline did a lackluster job overseeing repairs on Boeing 737 jetliners. Back in 2006, Southwest carried out "extreme makeover" alterations that were intended to "eliminate potential cracking of the aluminum skin on 44 jetliners," the FAA says.

But the contractor that handled the job, Aviation Technical Services, failed to follow proper procedures as mandated by the agency. Some of the problems — failing to properly place the airplanes on jacks during maintenance — weren't exactly catastrophic. But others could've led to real problems down the road.

For instance, the FAA says:

During its investigation, the FAA found that ATS workers applied sealant beneath the new skin panels but did not install fasteners in all of the rivet holes during the timeframe for the sealant to be effective. This could have resulted in gaps between the skin and the surface to which it was being mounted. Such gaps could allow moisture to penetrate the skin and lead to corrosion. As a result of the improper repairs, these airplanes did not comply with Federal Aviation Regulations.

As a result, the FAA warned Southwest that the Boeing 737s in question were out of compliance. But those complaints went ignored and Southwest continued to use the planes "on more than 20 passenger flights" in 2009. The FAA says it later "approved the repairs after the airline provided proper documentation that the repairs met safety standards." Southwest now has 30 days to respond to the FAA's call for a $12 million civil penalty. The Associated Press notes that airlines and the FAA often negotiate extensively when dealing with fines of this size, so the final sum that Southwest pays may differ considerably.