Airline Faces More Than $1 Million in Penalties After FAA Investigation

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October 30, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed civil penalties of $1,042,500 against Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., for operating aircraft that did not comply with federal regulations. Specific allegations include allowing flight crews to perform maintenance tasks as well as failure to complete inspections to monitor a crack in a turbine assembly.

Pinnacle provides 740 daily connecting flights to 120 airports in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Belize. The airline serves various Delta Airlines hubs using two models of Canadair Regional Jets manufactured by Bombardier Aerospace: the 76-passenger CRJ-900 and the 50-passenger CRJ-200 LR.

The FAA alleges that two commercial jets operated by Pinnacle were not in compliance with aviation regulations on a total of 63 flights in 2009 and 2010. The first jet was flown 23 times with flight crew members performing maintenance tasks on an inoperative passenger door wheel assembly. FAA inspectors had previously denied the airline's request to avoid using trained maintenance workers to perform the task.

The other violation of compliance with federal air safety regulations involved Pinnacle's failure to make timely inspections of a previously detected and growing crack in a turbine case over a 640-hour operating period. The proposed penalty is based on the commuter airline's use of the jet for over 40 passenger flights while it was out of compliance.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood underscored the importance of meaningful fines in an FAA press release: "Safety of operation in all modes of transportation is our highest priority. This means paying attention to detail and following the necessary rules and procedures."

Aviation Law Attorneys Hold Airlines Accountable for Faulty Maintenance

Exposed aircraft maintenance negligence should never be passed off as a mistake and given a slap on the wrist. Airline maintenance practices play a crucial role in the safety of air travel, and steep fines hold companies accountable when they fail to meet legal standards for operation of passenger aircraft. Pinnacle has 30 days to respond to the FAA's allegations.

All too often, issues like stress damage, design defects and other aircraft failures are only discovered during an assessment of wreckage. Holding airlines accountable through personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits is sometimes the last best option for creating meaningful consequences for corporate negligence.

"This is just another example of why the business model of 'increase profits by cutting safety' is wrong," stated John A. Greaves, an airline disaster attorney and former airline captain. "When these airlines get away with operating an unsafe airline 999 times out of 1,000, they think the unthinkable won't happen to them. Gambling the lives of their passengers for a few dollars more is an everyday practice."

"However well intentioned these announced FAA fines are, the amount Pinnacle ends up actually paying will most likely be a small fraction of what is being demanded now. Airlines consider such reduced fines to simply be a part of the cost of doing business, and it encourages, not deters, these airlines from operating in violation of safety regulations," said Mr. Greaves.