The Wall Street Journal revealed today that Southwest Airlines has been under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration for a year. The investigation is focused on its aircraft weight and balance calculations, which is a critical step before takeoff. It began back in February 2018.
Based on internal documents and interviews, as many as one third of Southwest’s 4,000 daily flights could have operated with inaccurate weight data during certain periods due to the manual counting of bags by baggage handlers instead of computerized scanning. The errors were described as “systemic and significant,” occasionally causing the reported takeoff weights to be 1,000 pounds lower than the plane’s actual weight.
Southwest said there is no evidence to support that number. The airline also claims that safety margins are in place, to leave room for such discrepancies.
Weight and balance calculations on any type of plane are critical. Weight is the total weight of passengers, bags and cargo, while balance is how it’s all proportioned on the plane. Excess weight on an aircraft can cause a variety of problems, including the need for a higher takeoff speed, reduced cruising speeds, decreased maneuverability and higher stress imposed on landing gear. However, the FAA has not linked any accidents to the weight discrepancies.
This is more bad new for Southwest, just days after it declared a state of operational emergency.