US watchdog to review FAA oversight of United Airlines maintenance

Passengers wait for the flights to resume at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Transportation Department Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) will audit the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of United Airlines maintenance practices, the agency watchdog said on Thursday.

"We will evaluate FAA’s actions to address maintenance non-compliances and violations at the air carrier," the DOT OIG said on its website.

Over the past five years, the inspector general has issued several audit reports and recommendations on FAA’s oversight of maintenance at Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines and is currently reviewing SkyWest Airlines.

United and FAA did not immediately comment.

In March, the FAA said it was increasing its oversight of United following recent safety incidents, saying it would initiate a formal evaluation to ensure the Chicago-based airline was complying with safety regulations.

The DOT OIG said on Thursday: "recent safety events with United Airlines -- such as flight diversions that can be traced to mechanical problems -- serve to remind us that FAA oversight of maintenance programs is paramount."

The FAA said in March it may delay future United certification projects "based on findings from oversight."

A 2020 DOT OIG report said Southwest operated more than 150,000 flights carrying 17.2 million passengers on the jets without confirming it had completed required maintenance.

In 2020, the FAA sought to impose a $3.92 million fine on Southwest for alleged weight infractions on 21,505 flights in 2018 on 44 aircraft, and in 2021 the investigation was resolved with a $200,000 civil penalty and deferring the remaining civil penalty based upon corrective actions accomplished by Southwest.

A 2021 DOT OIG report said the FAA lacked effective oversight controls to ensure American Airlines corrective actions for maintenance issues address root causes.

The report found that in one instance American "flew an aircraft with an inoperable emergency evacuation slide for 877 days before reporting the non-compliance to FAA."

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Jasper Ward; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Josie Kao)