Safety inspections ground hundreds of airline flights

American Airlines MD-80s grounded for safety checks.
American Airlines MD-80s grounded for safety checks. Tom Pennington / Fort Worth Star-Telegram / MCT

FORT WORTH, Texas — Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Thursday because of safety concerns with MD-80 and MD-88 aircraft.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, the nation's largest airline, wiped out 141 flights in addition to the 318 it canceled on Wednesday because of mechanical concerns related to its MD-80 airplanes. The company said it had completed 243 aircraft inspections and that 47 were "still being worked on" and expected to return to service on Thursday. Nine airplanes would be inspected Thursday night, which American said, "will complete this undertaking."

From Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning, Delta Air Lines said it expected a total of 275 cancellations, or about 3 percent of its schedule. Delta said Thursday that it was re-examining wiring on its MD- 88s and MD-90s, variants of the MD-80.

By early Thursday evening, the Atlanta-based carrier expected inspections to be completed on 70 percent of its 117 MD-88 aircraft.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport suffered the most cancellations, 42, followed by 22 at Chicago's O'Hare and six at St. Louis. Other airports, such as Miami's, were barely affected by the cancellations because fewer of the affected aircraft use them.

The problem emerged from a Federal Aviation Administration audit of maintenance records at American. The FAA is reviewing records of airlines nationwide after an inspection lapse at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which resulted in a record $10.2 million fine against the airline that was announced on March 6.

The MD-80 inspections at American are focused on wiring in the aircraft's wheel wells. A federal safety directive requires that the wires, bundled together in sleeves, be tied to the well's side at every inch. In some planes, inspectors found the ties spaced at longer intervals.

The wires connect to an auxiliary hydraulic pump in the aircraft. According to the safety directive, faulty wiring could cause several problems, including a fire in a wheel well or even a fuel tank explosion.

The two-engine MD-80 entered service in October 1980, according to its manufacturer, the Chicago-based Boeing Co. The last one rolled out of Boeing's Long Beach, Calif., assembly plant in December 1999.