American Airlines Chair Apologizes for Cancellations

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES — American Airlines Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey took the opportunity to apologize for cancelled flights at the Oneworld Alliance in Los Angeles April 9.

” I publicly apologize for any inconvenience caused by American Airlines flight cancellations. We are doing all we can to accommodate our passengers. We have obviously failed to complete the airworthiness directive to the precise standards that the FAA requires, and I take full responsibility for that,” said Arpey.

American Airlines has canceled more than 3,000 flights since Tuesday, April 8, when Federal regulators warned that nearly half of its planes could violate a safety regulation designed to prevent fires. They also announced canceling 595 flights last Friday.

The nation’s largest carrier canceled its flights to fix faulty wiring in hundreds of jets. The problem stems from an FAA order in 2006 covering the bundling of wires in the backup power system for the fuel pump of the MD-80. The FAA says improperly bundled wires could rub, leading to an electrical short or even fire.

Airline executives said they thought they had fixed the wiring two weeks ago, when they canceled more than 400 flights to inspect and in some cases fix the shielding around the wires in their MD-80 aircraft. But this week, Federal Aviation Administration inspectors, who have been conducting stepped-up surveys of airline compliance with safety rules called airworthiness directives, said 15 of 19 American jets they examined flunked. That left the airline no choice but to ground all 300 of its MD-80s, the most common jet in American’s 655-plane fleet.

American officials said the safety of their planes was never jeopardized, and the FAA said no serious incidents have been caused by poorly bundled wires.

However, the mass groundings, which have inconvenienced at least a quarter million people this week, have left countless angry passengers.

A return to normal operations depends on how quickly mechanics can inspect and fix the wire bundles. Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said late Wednesday afternoon that 60 planes had been cleared to fly, 119 were being worked on, and 121 planes had not yet been inspected.

The effects of the massive schedule disruption is causing American Airlines a great deal of money. On the stock market, shares of American’s parent company tumbled more than 11 percent Wednesday. It also faces a big loss in terms of $500 travel vouchers given to passengers, hotel rooms for stranded travelers, overtime pay for mechanics, expenses for putting some displaced customers on other airlines etc.

When asked by reporters in the Oneworld event in California, CEO Arpey declined to comment on the financial implications the cancellations. Dan Garton, American Airlines’ Chief Marketing Officer, also declined to put a dollar figure to the costs the massive schedule disruption had caused, saying only that it would be “significant.”


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