FAA Steps Up Oversight of United Airlines Following Safety Incidents

Skift Take

The FAA will be reviewing United’s work processes, manuals and procedures after a string of safety incidents the carrier experienced in March.

The Federal Aviation Administration is increasing its oversight of United Airlines following a string of safety incidents. 

Sasha Johnson, United’s vice president of corporate safety, wrote in an internal memo to staff on Friday that the carrier will see an increased FAA presence in its operations, which include a review of its work processes, manuals and procedures. 

“As you’d expect, we’ve stepped up our interactions with the FAA recently and they echoed these sentiments,” Johnson wrote in the memo viewed by Skift. “They agree that we need to take an even closer look at multiple areas of our operation to ensure we are doing all we can to promote and drive safety compliance.”

Johnson said the FAA will also pause a variety of certification processes for United during this time. 

“The FAA’s safety assurance system routinely monitors all aspects of an airline’s operation,” the FAA said in a statement. “It focuses on an airline’s compliance with applicable regulations; ability to identify hazards, assess and mitigate risk; and effectively manage safety.”

A String of Safety Incidents

United experienced multiple safety incidents during March, including one where an external panel fell off a Boeing 737-800 that landed in Medford, Oregon. A United Boeing 737-900ER departing from Houston had to make an emergency landing after an engine started emitting flames. And another flight from Houston, this time a 737 Max, slid off the runway in a separate incident. 

A Boeing 777 also lost a wheel during takeoff from San Francisco. Some of the incidents, like mechanical issues, have been typical maintenance mishaps.

In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, FAA chief Mike Whitaker said he spoke to United CEO Scott Kirby after the Medford, Oregon incident.

“We’re going to look at each one of the incidents and see if we see a pattern,” Whitaker said to NBC News’ Lester Holt. 

Kirby addressed the spate of incidents in a letter to customers on Monday, saying safety is the airline’s highest priority. He added that the carrier would take stock of its safety training, which included hosting an extra training day for pilots and a centralized training curriculum for maintenance technicians. 

“Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, our airline has experienced a number of incidents that are reminders of the importance of safety,” Kirby said in the message. “While they are all unrelated, I want you to know that these incidents have our attention and have sharpened our focus.”

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