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American Air inspects jets after FAA audit

AMERICAN Airlines pulled three Boeing 737 jets from service this week and is inspecting the rest of its fleet after a routine safety audit flagged unusual scratches found on some planes, a spokesman for a federal regulator said yesterday.

The damage was found on the "skin" of jets above the main passenger doorway, and was caused by a bolt or piece of metal protruding from a jetway curtain in Phoenix, Arizona, said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

"American is voluntarily doing the inspections, but it's with the full concurrence of the FAA," Lunsford said.

Scratches on the outside of jets are of concern because, left unchecked, they can weaken the metal and turn into a hole in the fuselage, Lunsford explained.

"Because the skin at that part of the aircraft is pretty thin, the tolerances for how much damage you can have there is pretty small," he said.

The problem came to the light this week when an FAA inspector noticed an "unusual repair" in a log for one of American Airline's jets, Lunsford said.

Further review of records turned up a "handful" of similar repairs, he said, with the first one logged in February. The precise number is still under investigation, he said.

"It took a while for the trend to kind of be spotted," Lunsford said. "It all kind of came together this week during this audit."

Lunsford declined comment on a Wall Street Journal report that the FAA is investigating whether the airline failed to promptly alert the regulator to the potential safety problem.

American Airlines was not immediately available to comment, but a spokesman told the newspaper the airline informed the FAA as soon as it determined it had a recurring problem.

The airline traced the scratch to a gate at the Phoenix airport with a faulty accordian-style curtain, used to protect passengers from the elements as they walk on the jetway to planes, the FAA's Lunsford said.

Most of the airline's fleet of 737s had used the same gate, and it planned to inspect 79 planes by today. By yesterday, about 80 percent of the jets had been checked, he said.

The airline will repair the damaged planes, which have been removed from service, Lunsford said.

American Airlines fixed the faulty curtain in Phoenix, and has stopped using the curtains on all gates where 737s land as it checks to see whether any others are damaged, he said.


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