Southwest Airlines didn’t want the US government shutdown to slow its expansion.
To get around the issue of FAA inspectors working without pay, Southwest offered to pay one $3,150 to come in for three hours and approve three new aircraft for their fleet during the holiday period.
What are the details?
During the government shutdown in the US, many government services in the airline industry were placed on hold. Whilst essential team members working in air traffic control and airport security (TSA) were asked to work without pay, many other aviation workers were sent home without pay to spend their time waiting until the budget was approved.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) during the shutdown only focused on maintaining any safety functions in US airspace, pausing any other regulatory approvals.
But for airlines, business keeps moving. Southwest wanted to add three additional Boeing 737 Max aircraft to their fleet during the holiday period but found that without the FAA open, they might have to wait weeks until their planes could fly.
There were apparently close to having approval too, with just a few more forms to double check before they would be given the rubber stamp. It’s because it was so close that they decided to contact the FAA management as ask, ever so nicely, if they could just finish off the approval.
After some late-night negotiations, the FAA management (who assumably were doing this for free) said yes and asked an FAA inspector on unpaid leave to come in to finish the work. This was on the condition that Southwest would actually pay his wages (and other administrative costs) until he got the work done. This amounted to $3,150 and took around three hours. One hour for each jet at $1050 USD, a bargain considering they were now able to fly.
However, not everyone has been happy…
Southwest rocks the boat during the shutdown
Other airlines have accused the FAA of being biased and showing favoritism, as their own attempts at getting aircraft approved failed during negotiations this month. One such airline, Delta, was waiting on approval to fly their four new Airbus A220 aircraft and had to delay their first flights until Feb 7th (which tickets have only now gone on sale). Naturally, the opportunity cost has been huge for these companies, as a $60 million dollar plane has sat idle for weeks.
“The FAA and Southwest entered into a reimbursable agreement to provide minimal time to complete aircraft certification services, These services were completed only after meeting immediate operational safety needs.” – FAA Statement
The FAA also claimed that they had begun the work on the Southwest deal before the US Shutdown.
Members of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists Union were outraged as well. Taken by surprise, Union officials claimed they “have never heard of anything like that before”. The union has complained that they were not involved in the negotiations (and unable to represent their member) and that the FAA had obviously shown Southwest a special courtesy not available to other airlines.
This whole situation has left us wondering why Southwest didn’t also pay the inspector to approve flights to Hawaii whilst he was in.
What do you think, is the FAA showing favoritism to Southwest?