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Southwest To Probe Whether Grounded Planes Linked To Labor Dispute

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Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) said it will investigate whether a dispute with its mechanics union was the cause of an "unprecedented number" of out-of-service aircraft that resulted in flight cancellations and flight delays.

Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in a statement on Tuesday that the airline has been negotiating with Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association or AMFA for more than six years. The AMFA represents about 2,400 of Southwest's mechanics.

The airline said despite it offering a tentative agreement with an "industry-leading pay package" last fall, the deal was not approved by the mechanics.

Southwest said that on February 12, just days after its last negotiations session with AMFA, it experienced an unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft in four of its 20 specific maintenance locations despite no changes in the company's maintenance programs, leadership, or policies and procedures.

The number of aircraft out of the fleet drove flight cancellations, in some cases extremely long delays and other operational impacts over the last week.

The airline also noted that it has two pending lawsuits against the AMFA, which has "a history of work disruptions."

"We will be investigating this current disruption and exploring all possible remedies," Southwest said.

The airline has issued a notice to require an "all hands" response to get out-of-service aircraft back into the fleet serving its customers.

Southwest, which utilizes a regular team of approved third-party vendors to help with its ongoing maintenance program, has currently assigned as much scheduled maintenance program work to those providers as possible.

In response to the Southwest statement, AMFA said that Southwest's "scapegoating" of its aircraft maintenance technicians does not bode well for the airline's safe operations.

"For Southwest's leadership to connect the airline's self-declared 'operational emergency' to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline's safety issues. The FAA has condemned the carrier's 'capitulation of airworthiness' and Southwest has confessed that it has flown passengers in unairworthy aircraft," the AMFA said.

Bret Oestreich, National Director for AMFA, said that the mechanics union was threatened with the further coercive pressure of litigation by Southwest.

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