FAA proposes $1.5M fine against Northwest Airlines

The government wants to fine Northwest Airlines almost $1.5 million after it failed to inspect wires near the cockpit windows in some of its planes for 17 years.

The proposed civil penalty has its roots in a 1990 Federal Aviation Administration order to inspect wires in the cockpit window heating system on Boeing 757s. The FAA said wires that are too small could overheat and even cause a fire.

The order said the planes should be inspected within 90 days. Planes with the wrong wires were supposed to be grounded until they were fixed.

However, Northwest's 757 maintenance manual written earlier in 1990 left out the inspections. The planes flew until May 27, 2008 before the airline realized its error, the FAA said. The planes flew more than 90,000 flights from late 2005 until the problem was discovered, according to the FAA.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Even after the missed inspections were discovered, Northwest flew 42 more flights before inspecting all the planes, the FAA said.

The FAA's proposed fine covers the period from Dec. 1, 2005, until the day Northwest discovered the missed inspections. The FAA has a five-year limit on how far back it can levy large civil penalties.

Delta Air Lines Inc. bought Northwest in late 2008. Delta spokeswoman Ashley Black said the inspections showed that none of the 32 covered aircraft had the wrong wires.

The airline has 30 days to respond to the FAA. Delta is looking over the FAA's information, and "we're obviously going to review that and work with them to resolve the issue," Black said.

The Northwest fine is just the latest from the FAA against big airlines that missed inspections or required fixes.

Earlier this month the FAA said it would fine American Airlines $787,500 for problems including operating one plane without replacing one of its central computers. The FAA has also proposed two separate penalties totaling $5.4 million against American's regional carrier, American Eagle.

Last year, Southwest agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle one case. And in 2008, the FAA ordered American to pay $7.1 million for a variety of violations, including making 58 flights with two jets that had problems with their autopilot systems.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said it's not a crackdown.

"I don't think you could say the FAA is getting tougher on airlines," he said. "We're doing the same job we've always done."

Delta shares fell 6 cents to $13.01 in midday trading.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)