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Southwest Airlines Emergency Landing Prompts Ongoing Cancellations

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Over the weekend, Southwest Airlines was involved in two emergency landing situations. Friday’s highly publicized incident resulted in Flight 812, traveling from Phoenix to Sacramento, diverting to a military base in Yuma, Arizona, after a portion of the cabin was breached. Yesterday, another Southwest Airlines 737 was rerouted following the detection of an electrical burning smell in the plane. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in these events.

Although these two occurrences appear unrelated at this time, inspections of the Southwest fleet have revealed other planes with cracks similar to the presumed cause of Flight 812’s problems. While small cracks are not uncommon in older planes, Southwest has a troubling history of lagging inspections. As a result of Southwest’s current inspection efforts, nearly 700 flights have been canceled so far.

While the events of this weekend are indeed frightening, one positive aspect is that they may prompt a review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of this industry. A few weeks ago I wrote about how the “airline model” of accountability through transparency is a superior way of dealing with untoward events than what exists in the health care industry. Hopefully the FAA and NTSB will use these narrowly averted crises as an opportunity for change.