Southwest Gets More Time to Repair Planes

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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.

Grounded Planes Threat

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 officials portrayed the dispute with the FAA as mostly a paperwork mistake, and they moved to assure passengers their planes are safe.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said D-Velco, the company Southwest hired for maintenance work, farmed out some machining work to a subcontractor "without appropriate written approval from FAA. As a result, the parts are considered unapproved and must be removed regardless of their quality."

Van de Ven said the parts had been inspected and met Boeing's requirements, but that replacing them "is the best and most reasonable manner in which to fulfill the FAA's mandate."

Southwest suspended the maintenance company, D-Velco, a unit of aviation parts maker Northstar Aerospace.

Airline spokeswoman Beth Harbin said the length of the suspension hadn't been determined. She said the company doesn't do a lot of work for Southwest.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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David Koenig

David Koenig

AP Airlines Writer

The Associated Press is the backbone of the world's information system serving thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television and online customers with coverage in all media and news in all formats. It is the largest and oldest news organization in the world, serving as a source of news, photos, graphics, audio and video.