In an internal memo to employees on the matter that was obtained by the Chicago Business Journal, Southwest said: “Today (Wednesday) we discovered the weights being sent to our Dispatch Operation did not match our other weight records for a number of aircraft in the fleet. As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have stopped flying those aircraft to recalculate the weights of the aircraft in question and reset the program.”
Aircraft weight is important because dispatch personnel and pilots need the correct information to determine the amount of fuel to load and other data needed to safely operate a flight.
The memo on the sudden airplane groundings also informed Southwest employees what to tell customers should they ask what was going on or what might have caused flight delays or cancellations.
The internal memo told employees to respond to customers thusly: “This aircraft is temporarily out of service while we work on its paperwork. The system that calculates and reports the aircraft’s weight is not working properly.”
Asked this morning to comment on why the carrier suddenly had issues with its airplane weight records, Southwest said only that the issue “was corrected overnight, and the aircraft were cleared to operate by Thursday morning.”
The spokesperson also said approximately 30 flights were cancelled and affected customers were re-accommodated.
The spokesperson, however, declined to say whether the airline had experienced this kind of problem previously.
The groundings come just two months after the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General's office announced it was launching an investigation into whether Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors had been too lax in their safety and maintenance-related inspections and oversight at Southwest.
The groundings also come four months after a Southwest flight from New York City to Dallas suffered a detached fan blade and a massive engine explosion mid-flight that resulted in the death of one passenger, the first-ever fatality in the airline's history. The crippled plane was able to land safely in Philadelphia.
In the immediate wake of that fatal accident, Southwest said it would begin an immediate inspection of fan blades on all its Boeing 737 airplane engines “out of an abundance of caution,” the same reasoning given for the aircraft-weight-related plane groundings last week.
The Southwest spokesperson on Monday declined to say whether the decision to ground the planes last week was in any way tied to the DOT Inspector General’s investigation of the relationship between FAA inspectors and the carrier that is now underway.
(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)