FAA Ramps Up Scrutiny of United Airlines

The agency’s increased oversight of the legacy carrier follows numerous recent safety events.

The FAA said it is increasing oversight of United to ensure its compliance with safety regulations. [Courtesy: United Airlines]

March has not been a good month for United Airlines. The legacy carrier has made headlines several times for unrelated incidents, such as the loss of an exterior lower panel from an aircraft reportedly in flight and the loss of wheel on takeoff. 

Other incidents included a United aircraft engine fire, one leaving a trail of hydraulic fluid and an aircraft sliding off a runway, CNN reported.

While none of the events put lives at risk, the FAA said it is increasing its oversight of the air carrier "to ensure that it is complying with safety regulations; identifying hazards and mitigating risk; and effectively managing safety."

In a statement to FLYING, the agency noted that "certification activities in process may be allowed to continue, but future projects may be delayed based on findings from oversight. The FAA will also initiate an evaluation of United Airlines under the provisions of the Certificate Holder Evaluation Process."

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby addressed the issue with an open letter to customers, stating that "our team is reviewing the details of each case to understand what happened and using those insights to inform our safety training and procedures across all employee groups.”

Kirby said these changes come in addition to processes already planned, such as an extra day of in-person training for all pilots, beginning in May and a centralized training curriculum for new-hire maintenance technicians.

“We're also dedicating more resources to supplier network management,” said Kirby.

Sasha Johnson, United Airlines vice president of corporate safety, addressed airline employees, letting them know that the FAA would be on-site for the next several weeks.

"[They will be on hand] to review some of our work processes, manuals, and facilities,” Johnson said. “We welcome their engagement and are very open to hear from them about what they find and their perspective on things we may need to change to make us even safer…We have a strong safety culture at United. Still, the number of safety-related events in recent weeks have rightfully caused us to pause and evaluate whether there is anything we can and should do differently.” 

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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