Safety checks hinder US flights

There was chaos at US airports last week amid growing criticism of the country’s air-safety inspection regime, with American Airlines forced to cancel at least 3,000 domestic flights.

Delta Air Lines, United ­Airlines and US Airways have also cancelled services in ­recent days after federal officials announced spot checks on the paperwork relating to safety checks on aircraft.

The chaos at American Airlines affected several major airports, including Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth. The furore at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 seemed pale by comparison.

American reported services as back to normal this week ­after cancelling all flights ­operated by its 300 MD-80 aircraft, the ageing workhorse of US domestic fleets, while it performed safety checks.

The crisis began quietly in March when it emerged a ­committee of Congress was investigating allegations that the Federal Aviation Administration had allowed low-cost ­giant Southwest Airlines to fly aircraft outside the airworthiness inspection regime. The FAA is the equivalent of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The FAA fined Southwest $10 million for flying aircraft for more than two years after it was due for inspection. However, the affair exploded last week with the announcement of checks on the records of all US carriers. US transportation department inspector general Calvin Scovel accused the FAA of an “overly collaborative” ­relationship with airlines. A Congressional committee ­reported: “There may be a pattern of regulatory abuse.”

United grounded its fleet of Boeing 777s for checks on April 2 after a maintenance review found a test on the aircraft’s cargo fire-supression system had not been carried out, leading to the cancellation of seven services from Heathrow.

A United spokesman said: “Everything was back to normal within 48 hours.”

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