United grounds 11 percent of its fleet

April 2, 2008 7:31:01 PM PDT
While the airline industry scrambles to keep planes and passengers in the air, The FAA is coming under fire tonight. Today it was United's 777's being taken out of service at the Airlines hub at SFO. Thursday, on Capitol Hill, Congress will be demanding answers from everyone involved.

As a passenger, you have to wonder, what the heck is going on? They've already taken our meals. They've taken our pillows and blankets. Now they are taking away planes to be checked out.

On Wednesday, that affected United with seven arrivals and one departure cancelled at SFO, the only airport affected. Thursday, Congress will ask them what they are going to do to make the skies safe. It's all about inspections.

2,400 planes have been inspected by the FAA in the past two weeks. Six were overdue for inspection. So, are the skies unsafe?

"Despite what a small few may imply, our system system works. Flying is safer today than any time in the past," says acting FAA Administrator Robert Stargell.

But the FAA and the airline industry could get raked over the coals at Thursday's congressional hearing. Is their relationship too cozy?

"I think they're even giving advance notice before they come out and tell them they are doing inspections," says aviation consultant Ron Wilson.

On Wednesday, it was United's turn, taking 777's out of service for inspections. Delta and American recently cancelled flights for the same reason. The airlines have become proactive since Southwest was fined $10 million dollars for ignoring cracks in its fleet of older 737's.

With sky high fuel costs, airlines don't want to be hit with fines.

Today's cancellations had passengers scrambling.

"I'm ok with it as long as I know they're taking care of planes, I'm fine with that. I'd rather have them take care it than for me to get up there and something's wrong," says passenger David Daniels.

Some of the grounded 777's have been inspected and are back in service.

There are four airlines that may have been out of compliance at a number of inspections. It could be a heated hearing Thursday in Washington. United says that most of the flights will be back and most the planes will be in service by midday Thursday, but will have a residual affect on Friday.