The government shut down is currently on winter break and while the shut down may come back on the 15th, we recently learned that the FAA did work for Southwest Airlines during the last shutdown much to the anger of some airlines and unions.

During the government shutdown the FAA was really limited as to what it could do as only a handful of employees like air traffic controllers and TSA workers were deemed essential.  During protests at Miami Airport, furloughed inspectors held signs with phrases like “Was your airplane properly repaired and inspected today? The FAA does not know!”

In addition to not inspecting repairs, agents weren’t signing off on new aircraft which resulted in Delta delaying the introduction of its Airbus A220 and Alaska Air had to delay flights to/from Boeing Pane Field (PAE). We now know that Southwest got to bring 3 new Boeing 737 MAXs online. Heres how it happened:

  • Three planes completed they physical inspection. Southwest negotiated for an FAA inspector on unpaid leave during the shutdown to finish the work. A contract was looked over by a legal team that said it was allowed as long as Southwest paid the full cost upfront.
  • Southwest shelled out $3150 to the FAA for 3 hours of work to certify 3 jets – to be repaid by the government once opened

Something seems off about this entire story and I have a few questions.

  • Why Southwest was given special treatment?
  • Why didn’t Southwest push for their Hawaii ETOPS certificate instead?
  • Southwest should be reimbursed for the cost, so why didn’t other US airlines just put the cash upfront to be paid back?

If any of you can shed some light how this was allowed, please do as I’m left scratching my head here.