The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is threatening to shut down America West or ground part of its fleet in the wake of a special audit of maintenance practices at the USA's ninth-largest air carrier.

Prompted by the crash of an Alaska Airlines Boeing MD-80 in January, the FAA conducted maintenance audits of America West and the eight other major US carriers. America West's problems are "more serious" than those found at Alaska Airlines, says an FAA official, adding that he does not expect similar sanctions against the remaining major US carriers.

The Phoenix-based airline had seven days from 25 August to establish to the FAA compliance of its Boeing 737s and 757s with applicable airworthiness directives - an area of maintenance record- keeping "of particular concern", the FAA says. America West would have to take specific aircraft out of service until records establish compliance with safety directives, the FAA says. The airline is satisfied that all the airworthiness directives have been complied with and properly documented.

The FAA also ordered America West to produce within a month a comprehensive action plan outlining proposed methods for revising its maintenance programme and correcting deficiencies. "Failure to commit to and completely execute corrective actions could result in the FAA amending America West's operations specifications or taking other appropriate remedies," says David Gilliom, the FAA's flight standards division manager. The worst case scenario would be suspension of the airline's operating certificate, although less drastic measures are more likely.

The US aviation agency has "serious concerns" about America West's "compromised" maintenance programme, especially the air carrier's records and recordkeeping procedures. "Symptoms of these deficiencies are poorly audited heavy maintenance performed by contract vendors...and maintenance deferrals which result from repetitive aircraft malfunctions," says the FAA. America West will face increased surveillance until the FAA is satisfied with its actions.

America West recently cut its flight schedule and invested more in maintenance operations. Two years ago, the carrier paid a $2.5 million fine for operating aircraft that were overdue for structural inspections.

Source: Flight International