Southwest Airlines faces "operational emergency" with spike in out-of-service jets

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines

Southwest's maintenance organization issued a call to maximize the number of Mechanics available for work.

Southwest Airlines Co's shares fell as much as 6 percent on Wednesday after the low-priced carrier said it was investigating whether a conflict with its mechanics union was leading to a spike in flight cancellations.

Southwest, which has been in contract talks with the union representing its 2,700 mechanics for more than six years, has been frustrated in its efforts to reach a deal as it seeks to keep costs in check.

Southwest said it is investigating the service problems.

AMFA accuses Southwest of pressuring mechanics to approve planes for service too quickly because planes that are grounded do not make money for the airline. The total rises over double the average daily amount of just 20.

It has been a rough Presidents Day weekend for Southwest Airlines.

America's most popular airline is in the sixth day of its operational emergency as the airline experiences long delays and an unusual number of grounded flights.

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Southwest had scrapped 519 flights February 15 through Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com, although the total included flights grounded by weather.

On Friday Southwest canceled 100 of its flights due to outstanding maintenance issues.

Friday the airline issued an "all hands" demand to its maintenance crews that implied unexcused absences could result in termination.

Van de Ven linked the chaos to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, with which the carrier has been locked in negotiations over pay and benefits for years. The new service, which is expected to begin next month, will pressure profit margins by forcing the airline to discount early flights more than it had expected, analyst Catherine O'Brien said in a note to clients Wednesday. The meeting is rumored to have triggered the recent operational issues with Southwest Airlines. "For Southwest's leadership to connect the airline's self-declared "operational emergency" to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline's safety issues".

Oestreich contended that mechanics were working overtime but that the airline has the fewest mechanics to aircraft ratio of any major carrier.

According to the FAA's weight & balance handbook, a safety guideline for airplane operators, excess weight on an aircraft can cause a variety of problems, including the need for a higher takeoff speed, reduced cruising speeds, decreased maneuverability and higher stress imposed on landing gear.

"Since that time, the FAA has directed the development of a comprehensive solution to the methods and processes used by Southwest Airlines to determine this performance data", the FAA said.

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