American Airlines grounded fourteen of its 737-800 aircraft today after discovering an issue with recent retrofit work. An “issue with the quality of work conducted on overhead bins” was discovered on two of the planes. The carrier chose to pull all of the planes that received this modification from the vendor out of service, pending further inspection and remediation of the work. American also notified the FAA of the issues. Some 40 flights were canceled so far as a result of pulling the aircraft out of service.
The work in question is understood to have been performed by ATS at Paine Field, north of Seattle. ATS provides a variety of retrofit and refurbishment services to several airlines and across multiple aircraft types. This project involves the conversion of the 737-800 interiors to what American calls the “Oasis” configuration. Among other updates, the aircraft receive the larger Boeing Space Bins for overhead storage. Based on American’s statement the installation of those bins was “not up to our standards” and thus needed to be reworked further. American does point out that the issue did not impact flight safety, though it still came up short of requirements.
Other sources suggest that the work issues prevented bins from remaining latched and also saw a wire behind the bins mismounted and at risk of abrading and shorting over time. Those are very real risks to consider.
This is not the first time American Airlines grounded aircraft as a result of issues with the quality of maintenance work. In 2012 the airline grounded multiple 757s as seats came loose from the mounting tracks in flight. Ultimately that issue was traced to the improper installation of a part during a maintenance interval. In that case the work could not be traced to a specific work group or facility. In this case, however, the problem does appear isolated to the retrofits performed in Everett. This likely gives additional bargaining power to the carrier’s in-house mechanics as they seek to bring more work back into the company rather than see it outsourced.
American is not the only US carrier with maintenance challenges these days. Southwest Airlines is fighting what it believes is an illegal work action by its mechanics’ union that sees more than triple the normal number of aircraft grounded on any given day. The airline filed a lawsuit over the action while mechanics claim they’re simply doing their job correctly and ensuring the safety of the planes and passengers on board.