Fines totalling $7.1 million have been levied on American Airlines by the US FAA after the agency determined the carrier violated regulations governing maintenance and drug and alcohol testing.

The first violation stems from the return of two Boeing MD-83s to service using the wrong minimum equipment list (MEL), which lists components and systems that than aircraft can operate safely without in certain conditions. The aircraft resumed service using the incorrect list after the pilots reported having problems. FAA says those aircraft flew a total of 58 times in violation of its regulations.

On 11 and 12 December 2007 the first MD-83 flew eight times in airspace it should have been banned from after maintenance on the autopilot system was improperly deferred. FAA says American continued flying the aircraft after an inspector discovered the deferral on 10 additional revenue flights before the problem was fixed on 17 December.

Several days later on 21 December the autopilot disconnected on the same aircraft, and the carrier's technicians failed to check the problem and instead deferred the maintenance using an inappropriate MEL item, FAA explains.

That aircraft flew 36 flights between 21 December and 31 December, according to the agency, and technicians later discovered the fault was with the radio altimeter and not the autopilot.

FAA explains all those violations for that particular aircraft carry a $4.1 million fine.

For the second MD-83 FAA is imposing a $325,000 civil penalty for the disconnection of the autopilot on 27 December. While American pilots correctly diagnosed the problem, they again deferred maintenance under the wrong items of the MEL, and the aircraft flew four revenue flights without a functioning autopilot.

"American Airlines was aware that appropriate repairs were needed, and instead deferred maintenance," says FAA. "In intentionally continuing to fly the aircraft, the carrier did not follow important safety regulations intended to protect passengers and crew."

Other fines totalling $2.7 million against American were levied in May for alleged past deficiencies in drug and alcohol testing and operating aircraft in past years without timely inspections of emergency escape path lighting systems.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news