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In a warning to American Airlines pilots, their union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), says it’s seen “a significant spike in safety- and maintenance-related problems in our operation.”

The union claims that among the “problematic trends” it’s been tracking are tools left in wheel wells, an increasing number of collisions between aircraft while they’re being towed, an increasing number of items left in the safety area near jet bridges and “pressure to return aircraft to line service to maintain on-time performance due to a lack of spares.”

CBS News obtained pictures of a hammer the APA says was found in an Airbus A319 wheel well on March 25 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport before Flight 1654 departed for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. According to the APA, the flight’s first officer discovered it during his pre-flight walkaround and notified the captain. The captain called maintenance, who in turn inspected the aircraft and found a “Channellock style pliers and a screwdriver also located inside the wheel well.” The union says there were no open maintenance actions when the tool was found.

A hammer is seen being held by an American Airlines pilot after, the carrier’s pilots union says, it was discovered in an Airbus A319 on March 25 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport before the flight left for Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Allied Pilots Association via CBS News


In a message to union members Monday, APA President Capt. Ed Sicher says, “We met with (American’s) senior management earlier this month to discuss the operational hazards we have identified. … We now have management’s full attention. We secured management’s commitment to involve the union earlier in the safety risk assessment (SRA) process, and we are likewise seeking a commitment that APA will have a seat at the table for the entire quality assurance process. … Management’s initial response to our concerns was encouraging.”

American, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said, “Safety at any airline is a shared mission and it’s especially true at American. Our robust safety program is guided by our industry-leading safety management system” that  includes collaborating with regulators and its unions.

While not commenting directly on the issues raised by the APA, the Federal Aviation Administration said it “requires all U.S. airlines to have Safety Management Systems (SMS) through which they identify, monitor and address potential hazards early on before they become serious problems.”

Complaints about mechanics being pressured to quickly return planes to service aren’t new at American, as CBS News reported in 2019.

United Airlines is currently the subject of an FAA audit after a series of concerning incidents that included a wheel falling off a Boeing 777 as it was taking off from San Francisco and an aerodynamic panel that flew off a 737 during a flight from San Francisco to Medford, Oregon. 

“While United Airlines is currently under public and government scrutiny, it could just as easily be American Airlines,” the APA memo says. 

The union safety committee urged pilots not to rush or be intimidated “and don’t be pressured into doing something that doesn’t pass the ‘smell test.’ Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it safe.”

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