American Eagle is in danger of being kicked out of a key safety program by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because the commuter airline repeatedly flew overloaded, potentially unsafe planes, aviation sources tell ABCNews.com.
ABCNews.com has learned that in a separate case an American Eagle plane was improperly loaded with a 300 lb. metal maintenance staircase and four 50 lb. sandbags that were put into a plane's cargo hold as ballast.
The additional items were not entered onto the plane's load sheet, which is used to calculate if a plane falls within federal weight and balance limits, according to documents obtained by ABCNews.com. One document indicates that the crew also left the stairs unsecured inside the hold, which aviation experts say could have endangered the plane.
"This is a serious violation of FAA regulations," said Bill McNeese, a former FAA inspector and experienced pilot. "An unsecured metal object with sharp corners bouncing around in a cargo hold could compromise the flight characteristics of the plane."
The pilot of the American Eagle flight, who asked not to be named, said he "had no idea" that the staircase was inside the cargo hold, and was "very upset" at the breakdown of the loading process.
"This was a serious safety concern for me," said the pilot who took it upon himself to recalculate the weight and balance of the plane upon landing. The plane was found to be within the proper limits, despite the extra weight. The pilot later notified the FAA of the incident.