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Their reputation suffered, although it did not seem to make a dent in their passenger traffic, something that indicates how complacent and compliant the American people have become. Most people did not even seem to care that Southwest had endangered them and only a few spoke out in blogs or in other areas when the news broke. Southwest has a serious responsibility to keep its passengers and crews safe, and they lost the trust of at least some people because of their callous disregard for safety. That is a huge moral responsibility, and Southwest has never really acknowledged their failure, which is an even larger ethical concern, it seems. In a statement before Congress, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said, "Our compliance with certain specific Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness directives has been called into question. We have committed to a thorough review and to make any changes necessary to ensure that we are in full compliance with FAA airworthiness directives and our own maintenance programs, policies, and procedures" (Kelly, 2008). However, in previous testimony before Congress, Kelly and Southwest Executive Chairman Herb Kelleher both maintained that Southwest did comply with all FAA requirements, and the safety of passengers was never in question (Kelly, 2008). Thus, Southwest maintains they complied with all FAA regulations and did inspect the aircraft, only under a different maintenance directive than the one the two whistleblowers charged had not been done. It seems like a technicality, and that Southwest is not taking true moral or ethical responsibility for the incidents. They also stated that they did not think they would be fined for the maintenance issues, and it seems as if in their testimony, they were attempting to lay groundwork to fight a fine. However, they did eventually back down and stop contesting the fine, probably because they felt they looked bad enough already.
Some recommendations for this case have already been completed. The FAA inspector, Gawadzinski, was transferred to another division, without contact with Southwest. Southwest placed several maintenance and safety personnel on leave, and developed new maintenance and safety guidelines. The two top executives maintain they did not know about the 2007 maintenance charges until March 2008, and as soon as they learned of them, they implemented stronger maintenance and communication directives so they would be notified and aware of any problems. These would have been at least some of the recommendations made in this case. Another would be for Southwest to undergo a major campaign to gain back the public's trust, as many people would seem to have trust issues in flying on Southwest planes. This would include a media campaign that would address trust issues, and perhaps even a campaign including top executives flying on their own planes. This would not be too costly or difficult to administer, and it would let people know that the company is actually sorry about its actions and is going to be more responsible in the future. It also seems as if the company should apologize to their stakeholders and their crewmembers, not in front of Congress, but in front of them, and with humility. Frankly, their testimony and apology to Congress sounded defensive and insincere, and a true measure of humility might be to offer anyone who flew on those planes some type of compensation or personal apology to make the situation even a little bit more palatable. Of course, that would entail a large expense, but it would make their intentions a bit more acceptable. Finally, they have to be open and above board with their maintenance issues and they have to make quite certain there is nothing questionable about any of their practices. Their maintenance and safety department must be impeccable, and it must always be open to scrutinization not only by the FAA, but by the public, as well. They owe that, at the very least, to the people that choose to fly on Southwest Airlines.
In conclusion, this case indicates how deeply ethical issues can affect a business. Allowing planes to fly uninspected is a terrible disservice to the passengers and crews of this airline. It indicates a deep-seated lack of respect for the public, the employees, and the agency created to maintain air travel safety. It also indicates an arrogance that the company can flaunt the system and win. Southwest Airlines has deeper issues than maintenance and safety. It has to take a strong look at its ethics and principles, and alter them to create a more socially responsible organization that respects and values the people it serves. Without a change, the organization will certainly suffer more ethical violations in the future.
Goodwyn, W. (2008). FAA whistleblowers: Southwest probes stymied. Retrieved 29 Nov. 2008 from the NPR Web site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89328997.
Kelly, G. (2008). Southwest Airlines provides testimony to U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Retrieved 29 Nov. 2008 from the Southwest Airlines Web site: http://www.southwest.com/swamedia/trust_in_southwest.html.
Levin, a. (2008). Inspectors: FAA officials gave Southwest a pass on safety checks. Retrieved 29 Nov. 2008 from the USAToday Web site: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2008-03-09-safety_N.htm.
Wilber, D.Q. (2008). Airlines, FAA under fire on the hill: Lawmaker links safety lapses to 'cozy relationship,' will hold hearing. Retrieved 29 Nov. 2008 from the…[continue]
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