Flights to El Salvador criticized by Southwest workers


DALLAS – Dispatchers at Southwest Airlines Co. on Tuesday raised safety concerns about flights to El Salvador, where the airline plans to send jets for major maintenance work.

Dispatchers plan and monitor the progress of an aircraft’s journey, make decisions regarding delays and cancellations and, together with the plane’s pilot, are responsible for a flight’s safety. The Transport Workers Union said Southwest wants to operate the flights without properly training workers who hadn’t been qualified for international operations.

Southwest said in a statement late Tuesday it was communicating with dispatchers to make sure they are properly trained for the “limited number” of international flights. The company said the dispatchers had handled such flights before and could do their work safely and efficiently.

Dallas-based Southwest planned a year ago to send planes to El Salvador for maintenance work. It postponed the idea, however, after getting hit with $7.5 million in safety penalties for flying planes that hadn’t been inspected for fuselage cracks.

Outsourcing aircraft maintenance to foreign companies has become a flash point for U.S. labor unions, who claim that oversight of the offshore operators is inadequate. However, Southwest won approval from its mechanics’ union in January to perform some of the work overseas.