New documents obtained by CBS News show the situationis worse than previously known. At various times during the past week, more than 60 Southwest 737s were taken out of operation by unscheduled maintenance mechanics. The airline says that "unscheduled aircraft downtime", or UADs, has spiked on several maintenance hubs in particular.
Southwest said that since February 12, the average UAD in Orlando has risen to 60 hours a day compared to an average of 10.2 hours per day over the past two years. In Houston, UAD had an average of 1
"However, there have been no mechanical issues on the southwest that justify this level of OTS aircraft" Southwest Expeditionary Director and Chief Legal and Supervisor, Mark Shaw, wrote in a letter to the Mechanics Association Friday .
He accused the association of organizing an illegal worker act to protest stalled contract negotiations.
"We have identified a group of about 100 Mechanics responsible for almost the entire increase in UAD hours … This concentration of activity in a proper pattern indicates that the source of the increase … is an illegal coordinated activity, "Shaw wrote.
Bret Oestreich, the national director of the American Mechanics Fraternal Association, said the union – representing about 2,600 south-western mechanics – "well rejects these claims."
"AMFA has not asked, does not support, and will oppose any action in any form," he wrote in a letter to the mechanic on Friday in response to Shaw's letter. "Members are unequivocally required to refrain from collective action to withhold their services from the company, or to reduce their services, or interfere with operations for illegal reasons. Doing your work as a licensed technician is not illegal."
Nick Granath, a lawyer representing the mechanical union, said Southwest and its senior management "should be ashamed."
"AMFA members at Southwest Airlines work in accordance with the requirements of their FAA-issued A&P licenses," he said. "Southwest Airlines should thank these men for their commitment to security, instead beating the unfounded accusation."
The escalating word war between the airline and the association comes as Southwest CEO Gary Kelly attempted to get a reconciling tone in an email to employees late Friday – his first official commentary since the over-voltage in foreign aircraft, which has resulted in at least hundreds Detached planes and thousands of delays.
Southwest, which operates a fleet of about 750 Boeing 737s, usually has as many as 20 aircraft out of service at a given time. The airline previously suggested earlier this month, it had seen an increase in the 40s daily, before the number jumped to 60 last week.
"We are suddenly in a period of excitement and turmoil that surrounds non-service aircraft for maintenance and AMFA contract negotiations," Kelly wrote in his email, sorry employees and customers for the "hardship" situation has created the last two week. "Our mechanics are extraordinary, I am proud of them, and they have been particularly heroic in getting flight service for the past two weeks. They deserve all our thanks and they deserve a new employment contract."
Earlier In this month, a CBS News surveyin the southwest of unnecessary pressure to keep the planes in use. We have since heard from more than two dozen southwestern mechanics saying colleagues were emboldened to write up maintenance issues after the report was sent out to complete the FAA regulations.
Southwest Airlines and AMFA have been locked in tense contract negotiations for six years. This autumn, the mechanics dropped a new contract, and the airline says that today's operating problem began almost immediately after the last negotiation sessions. Mediated working time negotiations are set to begin March 12.
The recent "unprecedented increase" in the overseas vessel led Southwest to declare an "Operational Emergency State" at five of its 20 maintenance facilities – Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix. The Emergency Statement allows the airline to assign additional hours of work, change shifts and tasks, restrict vacations, and exchange switches, and extend the use of third-party vendor mechanics.
Outbound flights have hindered the airline's operation for over a week now, leading to hundreds of cancellations and thousands of delays. On Saturday, Southwest continued to experience more delays and cancellations than any other US carrier, according to FlightAware.
But while hundreds of mechanics have signed up to work overtime on the five maintenance bases where Southwest Airlines has reported an operational emergency, the airline company CBS News said it did not need to lean on overtime. According to Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, only two mechanics in Phoenix were called to work overtime in the midst of the so-called operational emergency.
Southwestern spokeswoman Brandy King told CBS News by email when, due to Operational Emergency, "only a limited number of mechanics use vacation days" and the airline has "redeployed additional staffing to support scheduled maintenance and outbound flights" resulting in "more hands on deck" to do the necessary work and reduce the need for overtime.
When the first state of emergency was announced on February 15, the union expressed concern about the possibility of mandatory overtime leaving workers tired. Southwest said it has not been necessary to "enable" mandatory overtime allowing the airline "to ensure we retain our employees and not introduce unnecessary fatigue."
Southwest manages some of the work away from its own mechanics to third-party contractors instead.
Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in a statement Tuesday the airline used a team of third-party vendors to handle as "much-planned maintenance program work … as possible allowing our Southwest mechanics to work on the increased workload of maintenance tasks they has identified. "
Van de Ven seemed to blame the association for the outbound airplane and wrote in a statement:" AMFA has a history of work disruption and Southwest has two ongoing lawsuits against the Union. We will investigate this current disruption and investigate all possible remedies. "
AMFA's national director Bret Oestreich responded, calling these allegations" prayers of sin "and" just an attempt to divert attention away from the airline's security issues. "
The union told CBS News, "All exclusively aircraft were written for legitimate problems."