A quarter inch = 2500+ cancellations

The details are trickling out on the AA re-grounding of their MD-80 aircraft, and it looks like a quarter of an inch is the cause for all the cancellations over the past few days. See, the spec from the FAA apparently requires cable ties to be spaced every inch along the cable bundle. American’s bundles were apparently spaced every 1.25 inches. And this resulted in thousands of flights being cancelled over the past few days.

A few questions come up from this report. First, was there an allowable margin of error in the one in ch measurement or was it a not to exceed? That could be significant to the maintenance guys. Second, what are the chances that someone in maintenance did a little bit of math and determined that cutting 20% of the ties would save some large amount of weight and fuel on the hundreds of thousands of flights that these planes fly each year. It may sound far-fetched, but AA famously didn’t paint their planes to keep the weight down, and Continental is no longer brewing coffee pre-departure on its oldest 737 models to the tune of ~$7/flight, or $1MM per year. Third, does the quarter inch matter enough to justify cancelling all the flights? I’m guessing that none of these planes would fall out of the sky if they weren’t fixed immediately, but at the same time, AA has had plenty of time to fix things, including the groundings a couple weeks ago, and they didn’t do things correctly then, so maybe this is nececssary to get it done correctly.

No matter what the reasoning, I’m still amazed that the AA maintenance guys didn’t get it all correct a couple weeks ago. With the FAA under such scrutiny it isn’t unreasonable to see that they are going to be insanely over-aggressive in enforcement right now. The real question is who’s next.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Hi Seth, thanks for commenting on my site! I enjoyed reading your posts on the airline industry. I guess Oasis is gone now. Wonder which airline is next?

    Hope to see you back at my site again – it’s still new but feel free to join my forum and share some of your expertise in the airline industry there!

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