American Airlines, already struggling with a third week of delays, found improperly installed clamps on six Boeing Co. 757 jets that could have allowed more instances of seats pulling loose in flight.
The problem fittings were discovered as American widened inspections to 47 planes from yesterday’s initial plan to check just eight of the aircraft, according to a statement today. The AMR Corp. unit has finished 36 inspections, which follow in-flight clamp failures on two jets within the past week.
“We have a lot of confidence the aircraft we are flying today are safe,” David Campbell, American’s vice president for safety, security and environmental, said in an interview. “We are being very careful about going through and making sure we identify the root cause and work through the corrective action.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also is investigating the issue, which the agency said occurred after the seats were recently removed and reinstalled. The FAA has had Fort Worth, Texas-based American under stepped-up monitoring since its Nov. 29 bankruptcy filing, a standard practice.
American hasn’t determined how the clamps were installed incorrectly on the foot of seat-row legs, Campbell said. The seats have two torqued locking points in back and two finger-tightened locks in the front, and the back locks appear to be the source of the problem, he said.
Inspections on the remaining 11 aircraft should be completed tomorrow. American expanded the original reviews “out of an abundance of caution,” a spokeswoman, Andrea Huguely, said in the statement. The issue doesn’t appear tied to any one maintenance facility or work group, she said.
The seat checks added to strains on American as it grapples with flight delays that began in mid-September and preparations for more than 4,000 layoffs to help restructure in court protection. AMR is also trying to fend off a possible takeover bid from US Airways Group Inc. in favor of staying independent.
Boeing’s twin-engine, single-aisle 757 is an out-of-production model that’s typically used on longer domestic routes than smaller single-aisle planes such as the Boeing 737. American said it operates 102 of the 757s.
The 47 aircraft in the inspections have the same older-style main-cabin seats with a common locking mechanism. The seats are scheduled to be replaced as American upgrades the planes’ interiors, Campbell said.
“We had, in many cases, both contract and some of our own employees re-secure the seats, and they came loose again,” he said. “We don’t believe it’s human error. It’s something the mechanics are focusing on.”
The most recent loose-seat incident occurred yesterday on Flight 443 to Miami from New York’s Kennedy airport. That plane took off and returned to New York once the loose seats were found, the FAA said.
American disclosed today that loose seats also were reported on the same aircraft on a flight to Vail, Colorado, from Dallas-Fort Worth on Sept. 26. The seats were tightened upon landing in Vail and the 757 returned to the D-FW airport, said Mary Frances Fagan, an American spokeswoman.
In a third incident, Flight 685 to Miami from Boston on Sept. 29 made an emergency landing at Kennedy airport after the discovery of three seats that weren’t properly secured to tracking on the cabin floor, Huguely said.
Timco Aviation Services, a contract maintenance provider, was asked by American to refer “all inquiries regarding this matter” to the airline’s media relations department, Leonard Kazmerski, the company’s marketing vice president, said yesterday in an e-mail. He didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment today.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents mechanics and other American employees, said “much” of the work related to seat installations was done by Greensboro, North Carolina-based Timco.
Statements linking the loose seats with American’s labor discord “are without any basis in fact,” Robert Gless, deputy director of the union’s Air Transport Division, said today in a statement. Seven work groups represented by TWU have approved cost-cutting contracts with American, which is in the process of eliminating more than 4,000 jobs held by those workers.