The FAA has stepped in and transferred three senior managers from its FAA office that oversees Southwest Airlines. The FAA took the steps following a series of investigations by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the agency that raised concerns about retaliation against whistleblowers who have raised safety concerns about Southwest Airlines’ operations and maintenance. The FAA union for safety inspectors has also reported concerns about retaliation to the FAA.
The FAA has had ongoing investigations into that FAA office’s supervision of the airline’s management of issues such as maintenance of 100 jets, computation of the weight of checked baggage, and hazardous landing incidents. The three FAA managers were in the FAA areas for supervision of operations and maintenance.
Southwest issued a statement indicating that it is cooperating fully with the FAA as well as the OIG office. The weight computation issue was reported by the Wall Street Journal, and Southwest will be implementing new procedures for baggage counting. Variations in onboard weight affect pilot’s calculations.
Some reports indicate that the issues spring from a changing culture in the FAA, with a battle of wills between those who believe in the old FAA mission of promoting aviation and those who believe that the FAA’s mission is one of safety in air travel. The maintenance investigation found that the FAA permitted about two dozen Southwest planes to continue flying despite the discovery that the planes had missed required structural inspections. There is a pull-and-tug dynamic at the FAA office that results in the whistleblower complaints by those who are concerned about safety issues.