WASHINGTON, March 2 (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) agreed on Monday to pay $7.5 million to settle U.S. government allegations that it flew planes without performing required safety inspections, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Although it was one of the largest fines ever imposed against a commercial carrier in the United States, the total was $2.7 million less than what the FAA had proposed nearly a year ago after accusing Southwest of failing to perform necessary checks for fuselage cracks on certain Boeing Co 737s.
In return for a lower fine, Southwest agreed to pay in three equal installments over the next two years, improve FAA access to information about its maintenance and engineering activities, and review its procedures to ensure regulatory compliance, the FAA said in press statement.
Southwest also agreed to split its management responsibilities for aircraft certification and quality assurance to address government allegations of a cozy relationship between the company and the FAA that allowed lapses in maintenance oversight and enforcement for years, the FAA said.
Concerns over the safety of Southwest planes were brought to light by FAA whistle blowers, who took the information to Congress.
Southwest contends it has always aggressively inspected its aircraft and has always operated safely. The company said in a statement on Monday that the settlement resolves outstanding issues and that it was working to “ensure the highest degree of flight safety.”
The fine against Southwest could double if it does not comply with conditions, the FAA said. Airlines commonly appeal FAA fines and settle for less than the proposed amount. (Reporting by John Crawley)