FAA proposes $1.1 million fine for Southwest maintenance

— -- The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.1 million fine against a company for alleged maintenance violations involving 44 Southwest Airlines planes.

The fine proposed Monday against Aviation Technical Services of Everett, Wash., was for improperly inspecting and repairing the fuselages on Southwest's Boeing 737-300 aircraft.

But the Southwest jet whose roof was ripped open in April with 118 people aboard wasn't among the planes in the FAA complaint. That plane landed safely in Yuma, Ariz.

Chris Mainz, a Southwest spokesman, says the airline holds its contractors to "the highest possible standards" and that Southwest has improved maintenance since the problems alleged in the complaint, which were from December 2006 to September 2009.

John Cox, a former airline pilot who now runs consulting firm Safety Operating Systems, says it sounds like regulators are concerned about the repetitive nature of the problem rather than anything that could have grounded the planes.

"I'd get on a Southwest airplane in the morning and I'd put my family on without a second thought," Cox says. "This says more that the FAA was concerned with the process violations than the safety violations."

FAA fines are typically negotiated with companies as they remedy any violations. The company has 30 days to reply.

The complaint says Aviation Technical Services failed to accomplish five repetitive inspections and a one-time inspection to find and repair cracks in the planes' skins. After the inspections, it allegedly failed to install fasteners in rivet holes in the time specified as sealant dried.

"Aircraft can be operated safely for years if all the maintenance work is performed properly," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in issuing the complaint.

Aviation Technical Services says safety is its foremost goal and it's "confident that our systems and protocols meet or exceed every industry standard for maintenance excellence and safety."

This is the second proposed fine against the company in the past year. The FAA proposed a $530,250 fine in November for improper work to detect skin cracks while maintaining 14 Southwest planes.