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Southwest Airlines: Out Of Service Aircraft, Weather Prompt 180 Flight Cancellations

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A war of words erupted Tuesday night between Southwest Airlines and the airline's mechanics union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association or AMFA.

In a statement to CBS News Correspondent Kris Van Cleave, Southwest Airlines COO Mike Van de Ven accused AMFA of work disruptions and said that it is looking at potential remedies.

In response, the AMFA said the airline was using the association as a scapegoat and is trying to divert attention from its safety issues.   The dueling statements come after Southwest Airlines said it cancelled about 180 of its 4,000 flights Tuesday as more than twice the number of aircraft as normal had to be taken out of service for maintenance Tuesday.

The airline said weather is also to blame, but much of the focus has been on maintenance.

According to a Southwest spokeswoman, normally, up to 20 of their 750 aircraft are out of service each day for unscheduled repairs.

But Tuesday, she said that number more than doubled.

Since Friday, the airline has declared a State of Operational Emergency at various maintenance stations to make sure its mechanics scheduled to work come in so they can return jets into service as soon as possible.

The airline has described the situation as "all hands on deck."

On Tuesday, the company included its Dallas maintenance station.

CBS News obtained a letter to the mechanics from a senior director of the airline's tech operations.  It said, "...I'm declaring Dallas in a State of Operational Emergency effective 10:00 a.m. Central... This is not the type of communication I (or any Leader) want to issue, but it is necessary to get our aircraft back in service in order to serve our Customers."

The mechanics union isn't happy the letter threatened termination.

In response, Bret Oestreich, the National Director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association or AMFA said, "I again have never heard of State of Operational Emergency in 28 years in aviation EVER..."

The association director says after two incidents, one of them deadly last year, involving uncontained engine failures, the airline ordered numerous inspections of its engines.

Oestreich said, "AMFA Aircraft Technicians and Inspectors completed roughly 9,000... engine fan blade inspections in 30 days... (there was no State of Operational Emergency)…"

Last month, a CBS News investigation revealed that some of the airline's mechanics felt pressured to return jets to service faster.

The uptick in maintenance write-ups for aircraft began last Friday.

The mechanics union and airline have been negotiating a new contract for six and a half years, but union members said this is a separate issue than aircraft maintenance.

Rebecca Hughes faced delays on Southwest getting home to Tampa from Dallas Love Field, but said she isn't sure why. "I'm trying to get back to Florida and my flight was delayed which would make me miss my connection in Houston."

Southwest has said safety is it's top priority and that it's doing everything it can to keep its customers from being inconvenienced.

Hughes said she's having to fly into a different airport to get home tonight. "It's an inconvenience more to my family who has to drive and come get me."

The airline advises customers to check on their flight's status before they head to the airport.



Southwest Airlines Has Double The Usual Number Of Jets Out Of Service

Southwest Airlines Declares 'Operational Emergency' Due To High Number Of Planes Out Of Service

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