Southwest settles unsafe jet complaints

Carrier to pay $7.5 million after FAA finds 46 Boeing 737s were operated without inspections for cracks.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Southwest Airlines will pay $7.5 million to settle complaints that it flew unsafe aircraft, and the fine will double unless the airline completes additional safety measures within a year, federal regulators announced Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration originally recommended more than $10 million in civil penalties in 2008 after finding Southwest (LUV, Fortune 500) operated 46 of its Boeing 737 jets on nearly 60,000 flights without performing mandatory inspections for fatigue cracks in their fuselages.

FAA documents obtained by CNN found that in some cases, Southwest aircraft flew for 30 months after government inspection deadlines had passed. A congressional panel concluded the planes were "not airworthy," and two FAA whistle-blowers said agency managers let the airline conduct the safety checks on a slower schedule to avoid disrupting flights.

The Dallas-based airline said it was happy to have settled "all outstanding issues with the FAA."

"This settlement with the FAA will allow us to focus on safety going forward, rather than on issues that are now behind us and that have already been addressed," it said in a written statement.

-- CNN's Mike M. Ahlers contributed to this report. To top of page

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