- The FAA recently considered grounding 38 Southwest Airlines jets due to missing maintenance documentation, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
- Without the full paperwork, the FAA could not verify that the planes met federal safety requirements.
- The missing documentation applies to some planes that Southwest bought used from foreign airlines. The airline said it considers the issue a paperwork problem, not a safety risk.
- Sign up for Business Insider's transportation newsletter, Shifting Gears, to get more stories like this in your inbox.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The FAA recently considered grounding more than three dozen Southwest Airlines jets, after the airline failed to provide documentation confirming that the jets meet safety standards, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The issue stems from used aircraft that Southwest has purchased over several years from foreign airlines. The previous owners failed to keep reliable maintenance records. Consequently, Southwest and regulators, unable to establish an accurate history of minor repairs, fixes, and inspections, cannot definitively determine that the planes meet all safety requirements.
Southwest has faced increased scrutiny from congressional investigators and the FAA for months, following a variety of whistleblower complaints related to maintenance and safety. The most recent issue arose over the past several weeks, after Southwest informed the FAA that it previously found dozens of "problematic" repairs on planes, done by previous owners.
Those findings, combined with the inadequate documentation, has raised concerns among regulators. Although the airline believed it had backup records, it later found that it was missing numerous important documents, and that some paperwork was incomplete, The Journal said.
Southwest acquired 88 used Boeing 737 NG planes between 2013 and 2017, part of its fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 jets.
Of those 88, 41 have been fully inspected to verify paperwork, and another nine are undergoing inspections. The remaining 38 planes, which are the ones lacking complete documentation, have drawn scrutiny from the FAA, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, and Congress.
The FAA threatened to ground those 38 planes in late October, according to The Journal, "if the agency's concerns weren't adequately addressed." In 2018, the regulator briefly grounded 32 of the airline's planes following audits of maintenance records.
The airline told the FAA that it considers the issue a paperwork problem, rather than a maintenance and safety risk, because each of the planes had undergone extensive regular maintenance over the years since joining Southwest's fleet.
The agency agreed to let the planes continue flying following discussions with Southwest officials, and conditional upon the airline accelerating required inspections to bring paperwork into compliance by January.
Southwest also owns 34 Boeing 737 Max jets, which have been grounded through March. A grounding of additional planes would place a significant strain on the airline's operations.
In June, the FAA reassigned three managers in its office overseeing Southwest, amid numerous concerns.
Are you an employee at Southwest or the FAA? Contact this reporter at email@example.com.