Our prior post on the award of safety performance bonuses at Transocean may have left you, and us, wondering about the ability of large corporations to walk the talk. Well, better news today with an article from the Wall Street Journal* recounting the decision by Southwest Airlines to preemptively ground its 737s after a fuselage tear on one of the planes.
As told in the article, the Southwest management appears to have rapidly responded to the event (over a weekend) with technical assessment including advice from Boeing. The bottom line on the technical side was uncertainty regarding the cause of the failure and the implications for other similar 737s. It was also clear that Southwest placed the burden on an affirmative showing that the planes were safe rather than requiring evidence that they weren’t. With the issue “up in the air” the CEO acted quickly and decisively with the grounding order and the conduct of inspections as recommended by Boeing.
The decision resulted in the cancellation of over 600 flights and no doubt inconvenienced many Southwest passengers, and will have a substantial cost impact to the airline. The action by Southwest was described as “unusual” as it did not wait for a directive from the government or Boeing to remove planes from service.
(Ed. note: Southwest’s current approach is even more remarkable in light of how recently their practices were not exactly on the side of the angels. In 2008, the FAA fined Southwest $7.5 million for knowingly flying planes that were overdue for mandatory structural inspections.)
* T.W. Martin, A. Pasztor and P. Sanders, "Southwest's Solo Flight in Crisis," wsj.com (Apr 8, 2011).