The FAA is poised to slap a record penalty of $25 million or more against American Airlines for maintenance lapses involving wiring in the MD-80 jet that caused flight cancellations in 2008, according to reports Thursday.
NBC News said the official fine letter wasn't expected to be sent for a week or more and that the precise amount could change. It is expected to be the largest fine levied against a U.S. airline.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported on its website that the move would cap months of internal government debate and efforts by American to head off such a penalty by enhancing its maintenance procedures and taking other steps.
The Journal reported that its sources said Federal Aviation Administration officials seemed determined to levy a civil penalty that could be nearly three times as largest as the record against a U.S. airline.
A penalty of as much as $100 million was considered, but that was rejected by senior FAA officials, the Journal said.
The previous record was $10.2 million against Southwest Airlines in March 2008. The Southwest fine was for 60,000 flights involving planes that had missed required examinations for structural cracks. That case settled for $7.5 million a year later.
American Airlines announced in March 2008 that it was grounding its fleet of Boeing MD-80s so crews could reinspect wire bundles to comply with FAA regulations.
Loose fastening of wires in 290 of American's MD-80s led to damage in some planes that, if uncorrected, could have caused an electrical discharge that's a potential fire threat, according to the government and industry officials.
The airline and officials with its mechanics union said its MD-80s never experienced an electrical discharge, known as arcing, and have long contended that safety never was jeopardized.
The FAA ordered hundreds of MD-80s grounded in April 2008 for safety inspections, disrupting travel for thousands of passengers.
More than 3,000 American flights were canceled, costing the airline tens of millions of dollars in lost ticket sales. At the time, Alaska Air Group Inc.'s Alaska Airlines, Midwest Air Group Inc.'s Midwest Airlines and Delta each canceled a small number of flights on MD-80 series aircraft.
American found only two planes where the protective wire covering "had some evidence of rubbing," but the wires in those bundle had no signs of chaffing.
Steve Luis, president of the Transport Workers Union local that represents mechanics at American's largest repair facility, in Tulsa, Okla., portrayed the entire issue as an overreaction by FAA to minor violations. He said wiring on some planes was secured with clamps every 1 1/4 inch (3.15 centimeters) instead of every inch (2.5 centimeters), as the FAA required.
"They made a big deal out of nothing ... There was no arcing, no sparking," Luis said in February.
NBC News' Jay Blackman contributed to this report.