Inspector may have found airline security breach, TSA says


A federal safety inspector who boarded a number of American Eagle jets by grabbing a sensitive instrument, prompting nine planes to be grounded, was looking for security lapses — and may have found them, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.

“The inspector was able to gain access to the interior of seven of the nine aircraft inspected, which is an apparent violation of the airline’s security program,” said Ellen Howe, a TSA spokeswoman.

The airline faces possible fines over the inspections, she said.

“TSA is reviewing the inspection results, and depending on the conclusion could take action with the airline up to and including levying of civil penalties,” Howe said.

American Airlines on Tuesday grounded nine jets at Chicago’s O’Hare airport after it learned that the TSA inspector had boarded at least one plane by grabbing hold of a Total Air Temperature probe, a rod on the outside of the aircraft used to measure temperature, the airline said Wednesday. Forty flights were delayed.

The inspector aimed “to look for and test, among other things, access vulnerabilities or areas were someone with ill intent could gain access to the aircraft,” the TSA said, adding: “Aircraft operators are required to secure each aircraft when left unattended.”

American Eagle spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said the airline grounded the planes after learning the inspector had grabbed the TAT probe, fearing he could have damaged the planes.

“It delayed a lot of folks getting to where they had to go yesterday,” she said. “This was something we had never experienced before.”

She said the airline’s own inspectors checked out all of the aircraft and did not find any damage. They put the planes back in service by 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. She said the airline is in touch with the TSA “and we are working through this issue with them.”

American Eagle followed proper security procedures, she said.

“It is not TSA’s intent to cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections,” TSA spokeswoman Howe said.

Neither party has named the inspector.