Southwest Airlines grounds 44 planes for inspections

Southwest Airlines grounded 44 airplanes for inspections Wednesday in the wake of a congressional investigation into lapses in its inspection program. The Dallas-based carrier said the decision to take the planes out of service came Tuesday night, when officials discovered "an ambiguity" related to required testing for cracks in the airplanes' fuselages. About 4 percent of the airline's flights were canceled Wednesday, but a spokeswoman said the inspections were expected to be complete by Wednesday night.

"We are committed to being completely sure we're in compliance and that our operation is a safe one," said Linda Rutherford, a Southwest spokeswoman. "Safety is our No. 1 concern."

For a week, Southwest, the nation's largest discount airline, has been embroiled in a furor over its inspection and maintenance program. On March 6, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a record $10.2 million fine against the airline, saying it failed to ground 46 planes in March 2007 that hadn't been properly tested for fuselage cracks.

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