DALLAS (AP) - American Airlines says passenger seats on a third flight came loose as the plane was airborne, and it's continuing to inspect other jets with similar seating.
The airline acknowledged Tuesday that seats came loose on a flight last week between Vail, Colo., and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The same thing happened on a flight Saturday and another on Monday.
American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely says the airline is inspecting eight of its Boeing 757s that share similar seat assemblies.
Huguely said the loose seats were not the result of sabotage by workers. American's union employees are unhappy about pending layoffs and cuts in pay and benefits that American has imposed since filing for bankruptcy protection in November. American accuses some pilots of conducting an illegal work slowdown that has caused a jump in canceled and delayed flights.
An initial review by American indicated that there could be a problem with the way the seats fit into tracks on the floor of the Boeing 757, but technical teams from the airline "are looking at everything," Huguely said.
The planes involved in the Saturday and Monday incidents were recently worked on at an American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla., and a Timco Aviation Services facility in North Carolina. In both cases American employees were the last to touch the seats, which were removed and reinstalled during maintenance, Huguely said.
A Timco spokesman declined to comment beyond saying that the company is still investigating.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it is looking into the incidents.
The reports about seats coming loose during flights raised questions about safety on the nation's third biggest airline. Aviation industry experts said publicity about the problem could cause passengers to stay away from American and fly on other airlines instead.
Asked if seats had ever come loose on an American flight before last week, Huguely replied, "Not that I'm aware of."
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The local Transport Workers Union issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
"Transport Workers Union Local 514 leadership in Tulsa on Tuesday blasted American Airlines for outsourcing work on B757s aircraft that have recently had passenger seats come loose during flight, a problem that TWU Aircraft Maintenance Technicians have never allowed to happen. TIMCO Aviation Services most recently installed the aircraft
s seats that have experienced problems.
"It's disappointing that the company chooses to point fingers instead of addressing the real issue: is this an outsourced maintenance problem? Our only relief is that nobody was hurt as a result of this," said John Hewitt, chairman of maintenance for Transport Workers Union Local 514. "This is exactly why we fight so fiercely to keep work in-house here in Tulsa so that it can be performed by highly-trained individuals."
In news reports, American Airlines officials said that American Airlines employees were the last to touch the seats, which is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
"Our workers were the last to touch the seats only in the sense that after the seats came loose we were dispatched to inspect the problem when the planes were grounded," said Hewitt. "For the company to infer that TWU maintenance workers had a hand in sloppy workmanship is simply wrong. Now our members here in Tulsa will be correcting this problem as we have on numerous other occasions when outsourced work was not completed properly."
TWU Local 514 protested the outsourcing of work to TIMCO, which came about in the run up to bankruptcy. TWU firmly believes that it is poor business practice to outsource aircraft maintenance because it often leads to additional problems. The Transport Workers Union position has always been that while there may be a cost associated with maintaining American Airlines aircraft in-house, TWU workers are focused on the quality of the work they performed. The Transport Workers Union is on record with the DOT and the FAA with concerns about the oversight and qualification standards at contract maintenance facilities around the world."