As evening and morning news broadcasts showed video of angry air travelers lashing out at American Airlines for canceling thousands of flights, at least one show finally revealed the true culprit: the Federal Aviation Administration.
American grounded its entire fleet of MD-80 planes this week to re-inspect bundles of wires in the aircrafts’ wheel wells. After being embarrassed over its failure to keep up inspections of Southwest Airlines earlier this year, the FAA started strictly enforcing an air worthiness directive mandating ties that bundle the wires be an inch apart.
“The FAA says the ties that hold the cord in place must be in inch apart, not an inch and a quarter – one inch, wrapped in plastic sheathing and attached properly,” Tom Costello reported on the April 10 NBC “Today” show.
Costello’s segment continued a network tendency to blame airlines, quoting an unnamed passenger saying, “We feel abandoned by American.”
But “Today” host Matt Lauer brought the focus back to the FAA during an interview with former National Transportation Safety Board Director Jim Hall. “Is what we’re seeing at American Airlines right now about flying the passengers safely or is this about the FAA under fire, flexing its muscle?” Lauer asked.
Hall defended the FAA, saying that “it’s about safety,” adding, “It’s unfortunate that we’re having these disruptions in air traffic but this is certainly going to make our system safer.”
Lauer challenged that notion, however, suggesting the problem – “We’re talking about ties that hold bundled wires together that were an inch and a quarter apart, perhaps not an inch apart” – wasn’t worth putting so many passengers through so much agony.
Lauer also pointed out an underreported fact: the industry is suffering from the cancellations too. “You have to think that if American airlines had ever been held to these standards in the past,” he said, “they would have never risked this problem and the amount of money they’re losing over these last couple of days by not adhering strictly to them today?”
“What we have is a situation where these rules were not being properly followed and the oversight was not in place by the FAA,” Hall said, applying blame to both the airlines and the FAA. He added a prediction that “we may see more disruptions” as the FAA starts to enforce its directives to the letter.