Commuter-airline operator Trans States Holdings Inc., already under heightened federal scrutiny for two safety incidents in four months, now faces a proposed $2.5 million civil penalty for a litany of maintenance lapses years earlier.
In announcing the proposed penalty Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration alleged a series of persistent violations, some of which the agency said re-occurred despite warning from agency inspectors. Other slip-ups stemmed from “careless” mistakes that “endangered the lives” of crews and passengers, according to the FAA.
Spanning more than 320 flights on two different Trans States units over two years, the alleged violations range from mundane record-keeping problems to failures to perform mandatory inspections following a pair of emergency landings and after a third flight encountered severe turbulence. The two regional carriers, Trans States Airllines Inc. and GoJet Airlines LCC fly hundreds of daily flights for UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and US Airways.
Both carriers said that since the alleged violations occurred in 2007 and 2008, they were “puzzled by the timing of” the FAA’s announcement. In separate statements, they also said they hadn’t yet discussed the allegations with the agency, expressed confidence in successfully disputing them and pledged to continue “to strengthen our policies and operating procedures to exceed the highest levels of safety.”
In one case cited by the FAA, Trans States Airlines failed to conduct the required detailed inspection of a twin-engine Embraer 145 jetliner in December 2007 after the plane flew through severe turbulence over Louisiana. Company maintenance personnel told the captain he didn’t have to note the situation in the aircraft’s log, according to the FAA’s enforcement letter, and Trans States “took the unnecessary and reckless risk” of flying 62 more trips before the required checks were performed nearly two weeks later.
During the same month, a Bombardier jetliner operated by GoJet made an emergency landing in Portland, Maine, after the crew reported two cockpit warnings of troubles with certain flight-control systems. Maintenance employees improperly instructed the pilots to reset the circuit breakers, according to the FAA. A subsequent investigation found that mechanics should have inspected the plane to determine precisely what happened and sign off on its safety, the agency said.
In June 2008, another GoJet aircraft declared an emergency and landed in Denver after cockpit instruments showed similar malfunctions of flight-control surfaces. According to the FAA, the airline failed to properly document the incident and mechanics used outdated reference materials to investigate the problem. Proper procedures weren’t completed until an FAA inspector alerted GoJet about the discrepancies seven days later.
Other alleged violations by the airlines included improperly fixing an engine with an oil leak; flying multiple jets with inoperable instruments that weren’t properly documented; and having a pilot improperly defer maintenance on an aircraft service door.
The FAA said some alleged 2008 maintenance mistakes re-occurred barely two months after an agency investigation revealed that the airline had a “systemic problem” properly keeping track of deferred maintenance items. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the FAA gave the carriers about a month to propose compromise penalties to try to resolve the enforcement cases.
The FAA and federal accident investigators continue to look into why a Trans States jet went off the runway in mid-June after landing in Ottawa, resulting in three minor injuries.
In March, the airline’s head of flight operations was at the controls of a Trans States flight that prepared to take off from Dulles International Airport in Washington with only one of two engines operating. The pilot remains under FAA investigation, but the airline has been cleared.