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American cancels hundreds of flights

Flight cancellations soar at world's No. 1 airline as it sidelines a significant number of MD-80s, an older jet that makes up 45% of its fleet, for safety checks.

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By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- American Airlines said it canceled hundreds of flights amounting to more than 10% of its schedule for Wednesday as it performs more detailed inspections of a key aircraft model.

A statement from American said that the inspections pertain to questions raised by the FAA and American safety officials about how a certain bundle of wires is secured to the MD-80 aircraft. Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said that while the airline has not grounded any aircraft, the several hours needed to perform each inspection required the flight cancellations.

On Wednesday morning, American stated it would cancel 200 flights. By about 5:00 p.m. ET, American's cancellations ballooned to 338, according to FlightStats, an independent flight tracking service.

It is not known if the additional cancellations were for safety reasons or if they were flights on MD-80s. Afternoon calls to American Airlines were not immediately returned.

By comparison to Wednesday's total cancellations, FlightStats reported that American scratched only 28 flights on Tuesday for typical reasons.

American, a unit of AMR Corp. (AMR, Fortune 500), is the world's largest airline based on miles flown by paying passengers.

The MD-80 is the workhorse of the American fleet. American's Web site says the aircraft accounts for 300 of the airline's fleet of 655 jets.

The jet debuted in 1980 from McDonnell-Douglas, which was purchased by rival Boeing in 1997. Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) discontinued production of the aircraft in 1999. It says American is the largest operator of the aircraft.

The MD-80 issue is completely separate from a directive from the the FAA late Tuesday to the nation's airlines to inspect their older Boeing 737 jets for a problem with a bolt that causes fuel leaks. The problem has been linked to an August 2007 fire that destroyed a China Airlines 737 on the ground in Okinawa, Japan.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the 737 order only called for inspections, not the grounding of the aircraft. Among the carriers most affected by that order are Delta Air Lines (DAL, Fortune 500), Continental Airlines (CAL, Fortune 500), Southwest (LUV, Fortune 500) and UAL Corp.'s (UAUA, Fortune 500) United Airlines. She said that the FAA did not order American to ground the MD-80s. To top of page

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