WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- At least 65,000 U.S. airline flights shouldn't have occurred during the last six years because the planes were maintained improperly, a USA Today survey said.
The six-month investigation found that below-standard repairs, mechanics who were unqualified and slack oversight by airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration weren't unusual, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
The probe included an analysis of government fines against airlines for maintenance violations and penalty letters sent to airlines obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
"Many repairs are not being done or done properly, and too many flights are leaving the ground in what the FAA calls 'unairworthy,' or unsafe, condition," John Goglia, a former airline mechanic and National Transportation Safety Board member from 1995 to 2004, told USA Today.
Airlines contract about 70 percent of their maintenance work repair shops in the United States and abroad, where mistakes could be made by untrained and poorly equipped personnel, the Transportation Department's inspector general said.
The FAA levied $28.2 million in fines and proposed fines against 25 U.S. airlines for maintenance violations in the past six years, records indicated. During that time frame, there were 63.8 million flights.
The FAA told USA Today it "sets an exceptionally high bar" for the required safety level for airlines, saying the fines indicate problems were detected and corrected. The airline industry also said its planes are safe and points to millions of incident-free flights.
The airlines "regard safety as their highest responsibility," and "their maintenance programs reflect that commitment to safety," said Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, which represents larger U.S. airlines. The organization said its members haven't had a fatal accident because of a maintenance issue since since Jan. 1, 2000.