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American cancels 1,000 flights for inspections

American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights, or nearly 45% of its daily schedule, stranding thousands of passengers and creating chaos at the busiest US airports as it conducted safety inspections of its MD-80 aircraft.

The cancellations by the No. 1 US airline, a unit of AMR Corp, follow 460 cancellations on Tuesday and hundreds of cancellations two weeks ago, also for inspections.

An airline spokesman said about 30 MD-80s were in service on Wednesday morning and more were expected to resume flying later in the day.

“We continue to inspect every airplane to ensure we are in total agreement with the specifications of the directive,” AMR Chief Executive Gerard Arpey said in a statement. “We will get back to a full schedule as quickly as possible.”

Shares of AMR fell more than 10% early Wednesday afternoon, outpacing losses by other U.S. airline stocks. The Amex airline index was down 4.8%.

American said in a statement on Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raised new concerns about recent wiring inspections of the narrowbody MD-80 aircraft that resulted in canceled flights two weeks ago. MD-80s make up nearly half of AMR's fleet. The average age of the AMR MD-80s is 18 years.

The inspections are part of an industrywide FAA review of airline compliance with agency safety directives. Several carriers have grounded aircraft as a result of the audit, which was triggered by inspection and maintenance lapses at Southwest Airlines Co.

The American inspections relate to a 2006 FAA order to ensure that wiring in MD-80 wheel wells is properly installed and secured.

The carrier said in a statement that it would hire an outside company to review the American's compliance with FAA requirements.

Alaska Air Group, the parent of Alaska Airlines, also inspected its MD-80s to ensure its wheel well wiring is in compliance with FAA guidelines. The airline said it canceled three flights on Tuesday and 14 so far on Wednesday.

The cancellations angered travelers at several airports where agents struggled to book passengers on other flights.

Dallas, which saw 208 cancellations, was the hardest hit city, followed by Chicago, with 138 cancellations.

At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the airline offered vouchers to travelers willing to take a later flight. Meanwhile, an airline employee offered orange juice and snacks to mollify angry passengers.

“American will do whatever it takes to assist those affected by these flight changes,” Arpey said. “This includes compensating those inconvenienced customers who stayed overnight in a location away from their final destination.”

Terry Trippler, travel expert at TripplerTravel.com, said the inspections did not raise safety concerns for him. Rather, the disruption itself is a bigger worry. The airline should have performed the inspections right the first time, he said.

“Somebody at American should be on the unemployment line,” Trippler said. “Do you know how many people they're disrupting? This is unbelievable.”

He said the financial cost to the airline would be high but the carrier also would have a lot of work to do to improve its relations with infuriated passengers. (Reuters)