Oct. 5, 2012 at 3:40 PM ET
American Airlines has grounded dozens of airplanes for a second time this week due to loose passenger seats, causing nearly 100 flight cancellations on Thursday and Friday. It said it was quickly resolving the problem, which the company indicated was caused by an array of factors, including the “gunk” from drinks that get spilled.
"We have identified the issue and our maintenance teams are securing an FAA-approved locking mechanism to make sure no seat can be dislodged,” company spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said in a statement. “All of our (Boeing) 757s will be back in service by Saturday."
She said the seat issue caused the company to cancel 50 flights on Thursday and 45 on Friday.
American first grounded the 48 Boeing 757 aircraft it operates on Monday for inspection after seats came loose on three flights, two of which made emergency landings as a result.
The airline re-grounded the airplanes — nearly half of its Boeing 757s — for maintenance on Thursday, less than a day after it said it had made all necessary repairs to fix the problem.
Huguely’s statement did not provide detail as to what caused the seat problem, but another company spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said multiple “contributing factors” led to the problem.
“There are a lot of contributing factors — normal wear and tear, gunk that can affect the locking-pin mechanism — whether its debris or sodas,” she said.
But she said “gunk” was not the primary cause. “There were some installation issues — a lot of contributing factors.”
The company is installing mechanical ties to keep these seats in place on the 48 jets with this type of seat, as a backup in case the locking pin mechanism fails.
The remainder of American Airlines’ aircraft, which have different types of seats, remained in service.
"The fundamental design of this seat is not as robust as some of the latest designs," David L. Campbell, American's vice president of safety, said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. He said the airline had used the same seats for 20 years without incident until now.
The seats in the Boeing aircraft are not designed by Boeing, the company said.
“The seats are buyer-furnished equipment and we install them for the airlines initially,” company spokesman Tom Brabant told NBC News. “The airline is responsible for maintaining them after that.”
The manufacturer of the seats in question is Weber Aircraft LLC, the company spokesperson said.
The Gainesville, Texas, company did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
The Federal Aviation Administration began investigating on Saturday, when flight AA685 from Boston to Miami diverted to New York’s JFK Airport because a seat became dislodged.
"The FAA is aware of American's decision to conduct further inspections on certain Boeing 757s and concurs with this step,” the FAA said in a statement. “Our safety investigation continues and we'll take additional action as appropriate."
American’s parent company, Dallas-based AMR Corp., filed for bankruptcy in November.
American is currently involved in tense negotiations with its pilots.
The number of delayed and canceled American flights has surged in the past month.
The company has blamed the pilots for intentionally causing delays by calling in sick in droves and making frivolous mechanical complaints.
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents 10,000 American pilots, denies these charges.
“Failure to place a mechanical discrepancy in the maintenance logbook can result in a revocation of a pilot’s license by the Federal Aviation Administration, not to mention the fact that it could result in a serious safety risk,” said APA President Keith Wilson in a Sept. 28 statement on the union’s website.