The FAA is considering temporary action against United after a string of flight accidents, sources say
The FAA is considering temporary action against United after a string of flight accidents, sources say

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering possible interim action against United Airlines beyond what was outlined in a letter the company sent to employees on Friday, two sources familiar with the matter told CBS News.

This comes in response to a series of disturbing incidents involving United aircraft in the past month inclusive a wheel comes out Boeing 777 and take off panel obsolete Boeing 737.

Among possible interim measures being discussed is a ban on United launching new routes for which it has not yet begun selling tickets. Another being considered is allowing the carrier to continue owning new planes — but suspending its ability to put the new planes into revenue service, which refers to commercial flights that carry paying passengers.

A third option would be to temporarily not allow United check pilots to certify new captains. Airlines usually do these write-offs internally.

Sources stress that discussions at the FAA may not lead to action, so some or all of these measures may not be implemented at all. United says it has not been notified of a final decision by the FAA, and those internal FAA discussions may be ongoing.

“Due to recent safety-related events, the FAA is increasing its oversight of United Airlines to ensure that it complies with safety regulations; identify hazards and mitigate risk; and effectively manages safety,” the FAA said in a statement provided to CBS News on Saturday. “Processing certification activities may be allowed to continue, but future projects may be delayed based on oversight findings. The FAA will also initiate an evaluation of United Airlines under the provisions of the certificate holder evaluation process.”

In an interview with NBC News this week, FAA Administrator Michael Whittaker acknowledged that he spoke last weekend with United CEO Scott Kirby about the latest incidents.

“I know they are taking some enhanced measures and looking at these issues,” Whittaker told NBC News. “We’re going to look at each of these incidents and see if we see a pattern … He’s concerned, I’m concerned, nobody likes to see that spike in incidents. So we’re both doing our jobs to look at where those risks might be.”

In a letter to employees Friday, Sasha Johnson, United’s vice president of corporate safety, appeared to acknowledge that some temporary action is coming.

“Over the next few weeks, we will begin to see more FAA presence in our operation as they begin to review some of our work processes, manuals and facilities,” Johnson wrote. “As part of this effort, the FAA will also suspend various certification activities for a period of time. These activities will vary by task force, and we will soon learn more from the FAA about this.”

The FAA’s potential temporary action was first reported by Bloomberg.

“Safety is our highest priority and is at the center of everything we do,” Kirby wrote in a letter to customers sent on March 18. “Our team reviews the details of each case to understand what happened and uses these insights to inform our safety training and procedures across all employee groups.”

United has aggressive growth plans that include hundreds of new aircraft on order and is rapidly expanding its international route map. Earlier this month, United announced plans to launch service to Marrakech, Morocco, Cebu, Philippines and Medellin, Colombia.

In the same March 7 announcement, the airline said it plans to increase flights to Hong Kong, Seoul, South Korea, Porto, Portugal and Shanghai, China.

The pause in route expansion and the introduction of new planes has the potential to have a significant impact on United’s bottom line, which is already being hit by continued delays in deliveries from Boeing.

Airline sources were unable to say when that “pause” would begin or what exactly would be suspended.

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