Source: Dawn Gilbertson via USA TODAY
Corrections and clarifications: The proposed fine announced Friday is separate from the FAA's investigation, launched in 2018, of Southwest's weight and balance calculations before takeoff. The original story conflated the two investigations.
The FAA proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines on Friday for incorrect weight and balance data on 21,000 flights in 2018.
In an enforcement letter to Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven on Friday, the agency said Southwest operated 44 planes on a total of 21,505 flights between May 1 and Aug. 9, 2018 with incorrect baseline weights for the plane in its system.
The starting weight is used in determining how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried, as well as where cargo must be located, the FAA said.
The FAA alleges that Southwest’s operation of the planes ran contrary to the airline’s approved weight-and-balance program and FAA-issued operations specifications.
Southwest has 30 days to respond to the agency. The two sides can negotiate a settlement that will lower the amount Southwest ultimately pays.
Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said in a statement Friday that the proposed penalty stems from data processing issues that occurred when Southwest was switching computer systems in the spring of 2018.
He said Southwest reported what it called record-keeping issues, which involve the empty weight of aircraft needed to establish a baseline weight for each plane, to the FAA in late July 2018 and resolved them in August 2018.
Southwest and the FAA said Friday's action is unrelated to a separate investigation of how Southwest calculates weight and balance data before a flight. That data, which takes into account factors including the weight of bags, cargo and passengers and how they are positioned on the plane, are a critical pre-flight task that dictates how much fuel is needed, takeoff and landing speeds and other factors.
The FAA had been investigating Southwest's calculations on that front for nearly two years. Southwest has since switched from manually counting bags to scanning them, as most airlines do. The Wall Street Journal said the investigation, publicly disclosed a year ago, was sparked by a whistleblower complaint.
When the FAA investigation was disclosed by The Wall Street Journal in 2019, Southwest Airlines officials said they were switching from manually counting bags to scanning them, as most other airlines already did.
This isn't the largest fine the FAA has proposed against Southwest. In 2014, the FAA proposed a $12 million fine against the Dallas-based carrier for allegedly failing to comply with repair orders for Boeing 737s.In 2008, the FAA announced a $10.2 million fine related to cracks in the fuselage.