The Truth About What’s Really Behind The “Operational Emergency” Declared By Southwest Airlines

Southwest’s statement on February 19 scapegoating its own Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) for their so-called “Operational Emergency” is a confluence of mistruths — and we countered it immediately.

But we wanted to address additional questions — namely, what is really behind the “unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft,” as described by COO Mike Van de Ven. It order to really understand what’s going on, we need to look at the timeline of events:

  • On February 4, the first CBS News report aired about airline mechanics feeling pressure to overlook potential safety problems. This report received considerable attention and spurred additional reporting and a nationwide dialogue.
  • On February 12, two U.S. senators wrote a letter to the FAA in the wake of the CBS report, urging the FAA to look into the issue.
  • Immediately following this report, FAA oversight increased to levels even higher than the previous increased oversight of Southwest from the FAA.
  • Following the series of CBS News reports, the letter from the Senators, and increased scrutiny from the FAA, Southwest has been more self-conscious in using intimidation tactics to avoid fixing maintenance issues, while Southwest AMTs been less fearful to write up legitimate issues.

However what is not a factor for the delays are AMTs calling out sick at an increased level or them declining overtime work. Leading up to the so-called “Operational Emergency,” attendance and overtime were at normal levels. Additionally, since the “Operational Emergency,” all AMFA members have been ready, willing and able to contribute, yet there hasn’t been a call for additional overtime by Southwest.

The truth is, this is not an “emergency,” but the new normal. AMTs are raising legitimate safety concerns, but our expert craftsmen operate at the lowest mechanic-to-aircraft ratio of any major carrier, making an increased workload difficult to manage. We don’t need lower safety standards, we need more AMTs to deal with this workload. To characterize this increase as an “emergency” suggests that Southwest is planning to return to its management-by-intimidation tactics once the spotlight is no longer shining on its practices.

Every member of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association that serve and protect Southwest Airlines customers and flight crews take seriously their role in making sure every aircraft in our fleet is safe. No matter how small an issue we may find with an aircraft, we have an obligation mandated by operation of our FAA issued licenses to repair it and make the aircraft airworthy. It is our hope that the Southwest Airlines management will join this commitment.

Southwest Airlines needs to encourage this renaissance of its safety culture, even if it is being catalyzed by outside forces, and accept the increased maintenance as the standard practice it should organize around and be prepared to accommodate. And more than anything, we need Southwest to work with us to fix their safety issues — not threaten us with litigation for doing our jobs.