Federal safety regulators are seeking up to $162.4 million in fines against American Airlines and its affiliates for alleged violations of U.S. safety standards going back several years. The sanctions would dwarf any previous penalties against an airline.
Many of the safety investigations had not been disclosed until the Federal Aviation Administration filed documents describing them to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, which is handling the bankruptcy case of American and parent AMR Corp., based in Fort Worth, Texas.
The court documents underscore the scope and depth of FAA's concern about the maintenance program at American, the nation's third-largest airline. They are coming to light just as American seeks to fix labor and financial problems and turn itself around after losing more than $10 billion since 2001.
American said Tuesday it has been working with federal officials for several years to improve training and oversight in its maintenance operations.
"Safety is fundamental to the success of American Airlines, and at no time did American operate an aircraft that was unsafe for flight," said AMR spokesman Michael Trevino.
But the pilots' union said some of the FAA's findings raised questions about flight safety, and it accused the company's management of missteps in dealing with safety rules.
AMR will try to reduce any penalties through negotiations, Trevino said. That's a standard approach when the FAA proposes fines against an airline for alleged violations of federal safety rules.
The FAA filed its claim in the court in Manhattan just before a July 16 deadline, but it went unnoticed for weeks. It was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The FAA said in a statement that it filed the claim to make sure the government gets paid just like other creditors in the AMR bankruptcy case. It declined further comment, citing the ongoing investigations. In some cases the agency had not yet formally notified American of the proposed fines.