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Originally published September 12, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Page modified September 14, 2011 at 6:20 AM

Corrected version

Everett's ATS faces $1.1M fine over 737 work

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.1 million fine against Aviation Technical Services (ATS), an airplane maintenance and repair company based at Paine Field in Everett, for allegedly making improper repairs to 44 Boeing 737-300s operated by Southwest Airlines.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.1 million fine against Aviation Technical Services (ATS), an airplane maintenance and repair company based at Paine Field in Everett, for allegedly making improper repairs to 44 Boeing 737-300s operated by Southwest Airlines.

The civil penalty, which ATS may appeal, relates to maintenance conducted on Southwest jets that were returned to service between Dec. 1, 2006, and Sept. 18, 2009.

The agency alleges ATS failed to accomplish all the work required by three FAA airworthiness directives aimed at finding and repairing fatigue cracks in the planes' fuselage skins to avoid ruptures of the fuselage.

Last April, a Southwest Airlines 737 with 123 people on board had a severe fuselage rupture on a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif. . A skin panel tore open along a splice joint, creating a hole 5 feet long and 9 inches wide, and depressuring the cabin at 34,000 feet.

The pilot made an emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz., and no serious injuries were reported.

ATS had not worked on that 737, but the incident sparked an FAA emergency directive mandating a detailed inspection of Southwest's entire 737 fleet and all other 737-300s, -400s and -500s in service.

In a letter to ATS in August and made public Monday, the FAA alleges that ATS mechanics inspecting and repairing the skin panels didn't follow proper procedures when they failed to install fasteners in all the rivet holes within a specified window of time dictated by the drying time of the required sealant.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement Monday said "improper work that compromises safety is not acceptable."

"Passengers have the right to expect the nation's airlines to operate properly maintained airplanes," LaHood said.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said "aircraft can be operated safely for many years if all the maintenance work is performed properly," but added "it is critical to follow all the required steps."

In a statement, ATS said it is "cooperating fully with the FAA," and that its systems and procedures "meet or exceed" industry standards for maintenance.

This is the second major fine the agency proposed within a year related to 737 maintenance by ATS.

Last October, the agency proposed a fine of more than $500,000 on ATS for shortcomings in its maintenance procedures related to inspections of 14 Boeing 737 jets owned by Southwest to detect fuselage skin cracks.

In that instance, the FAA said ATS used shortened "cradles" to support the aircraft while they were off their wheels — a deviation from Southwest's FAA-approved maintenance program — and also failed to install measuring equipment to ensure the maximum loads on the engines, wings and horizontal tails did not exceed set limits while the aircraft were suspended in the cradles.

In the late 1990s, the ATS facility — which was then under different ownership and known by the name Tramco and later B.F. Goodrich — was repeatedly cited for shoddy work by FAA inspectors.

In a series of internal memos and correspondence with company officials beginning in early 1998, the federal agency's safety staff pointed to lax management practices and failure to follow accepted standards, as well as incomplete inspections and policies that put delivery deadlines ahead of safety.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report, which includes information from The Seattle Times archive.

Information in this article, originally published Sept. 12, 2011, was corrected the next day. The April incident involving a Southwest Airlines 737 was on a Phoenix-to-Sacramento flight that had 123 passengers. A previous version of this story said the incident was on an Oakland-to-San Diego flight with 142 people on board.

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