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Computer problems ground Southwest Airline flights early Friday

Southwest Airlines preparing for departure from Minneapolis to Denver.
Southwest Airlines preparing for departure from Minneapolis to Denver. AP

Southwest Airlines flights were halted by a computer issue that resulted in a ground stoppage of flights for about an hour Friday morning.

The airline had problems with the computer system that automatically uploads flight plans to the Federal Aviation Administration, but the issues were resolved about 6:30 a.m. and no significant delays and no cancellations due to the computer mishap were reported, according to an FAA official.

The airline was still struggling with some other more persistent issues, however, on the seventh day of what airline officials have declared as an operational emergency.

Wintry weather that canceled most flights headed to Las Vegas on Thursday was moving through the mountains in the west and was expected to effect the airline’s Denver operations, according to a statement from airline officials. The airline reported 80 cancellations Friday morning out of about 4,000 scheduled flights, the statement said.

On Thursday, Southwest customers were being cautioned to check airline schedules before heading to the airport. Airline officials reported that 60 aircraft had been pulled out-of-service out of an operational fleet of about 750.

At least 65 flights had been canceled due to fleet maintenance-related issues out of the 400 canceled flights systemwide Thursday. More than 270 of the canceled flights out of the nearly 4,000 scheduled flights were due to the winter storm in Las Vegas, according to a statement from Southwest.

“We’re asking that customers check Southwest.com for the latest on their specific flights as our operational planners are actively working in the background to minimize impacts to their travel plans,” a statement from airline officials said.

Airline officials have blamed maintenance workers for the scheduling problems while the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the union representing the almost 2,400 aircraft maintenance technicians who work on Southwest aircraft, says the problem is one of the airline’s own making.

According to Bret Oestreich, AMFA national director, the safety problems they have been trying to get Southwest management to address affect commercial aviation as a whole.

“We get the blame for one bad decision after another,” Oestreich said. “Southwest has the lowest mechanic-to-aircraft ratio in the industry and Southwest has reduced the turnaround times between flights.”

The big problem is that airline management refuses to hire more mechanics, Oestreich said.

“If you increase the number of aircraft, someone has to do the work. Why would you not hire more mechanics?” Oestreich asked. “Look at downtime between flights. Aging aircraft have more maintenance needs. This company has created its own problem.”

Southwest Airlines officials have been meeting and negotiating with the mechanics union for more than six years in an effort to reach mutually agreeable contract terms. Oestreich said a recent contract offer was voted down by rank-and-file union members by an overwhelming margin.

Southwest has been dealing with mechanical problems on its aircraft since Feb. 15, when airline officials declared an operational emergency.

Southwest Airlines pilots picket outside Dallas Love Field to raise awareness about their contract negotiations. (February 3, 2016) Video by Andrea Ahles

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