American Airlines cancelled more than 1,000 flights today, including many at Lambert Airport in St. Louis.
American grounded arrivals to Lambert from San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, Orange County, Ft. Myers, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Des Moines and New York. The airline also grounded departing flights for many of those cities as well as Tampa, Jacksonville and Los Angeles.
Yesterday, American cancelled about 500 flights.
American runs about 2,300 daily flights. More than a third of them use MD-80 planes.
The airline calls it "the backbone of the American Airlines fleet. American flies more than 270 MD-80 series aircraft and is the world's largest operator of the type."
Why did American ground so many MD-80 flights?
Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all airlines to secure and wrap wires found in the wheel wells of every MD-80 plane. American failed to do it. Two weeks ago, American grounded 79 planes after failing to meet the "airworthiness directive" issued by the FAA.
American insists "these inspections are related to detailed, technical compliance issues and not safety-of-flight issues."
However, Capt. Karl Schricker, a representative of the Allied Pilots Association, strongly disagrees. "Airworthiness directives are for safety-of-flight items," he said. "The first time they (American Airlines) went through it over a year ago, everything should have been in compliance. The second time was two weeks ago. It should have been in compliance. And now, we're at the third time."
Today, I interviewed Dr. Manoj Patanker, a Professor at Parks College, one of the leading aviation schools in the country. Dr. Patanker has a Ph.D. in Computing Technology, a M.S. in Aviation Safety and a B.S. in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering.
Clearly, he's qualified to talk about these issues.
Dr. Patanker believes the directive reflects a concern of the FAA that doesn't rise to the level of a serious threat to safety. The FAA wouldn't have given the airlines 18 months to fix an urgent situation. If the problem required immediate attention, the planes would have been grounded immediately, according to Dr. Patanker.
The inspections will be conducted by American's mechanics, but the FAA will not sign off on the inspection of each plane. Dr. Patanker says there are not enough FAA inspectors to review every inspection.
Dr. Patanker insists the system works well and that aviation in the United States is as safe as ever.
"I would much rather hear about delays and cancellations than accidents," he told me.