(CN) - GoJet Airlines must face federal penalties after an error by mechanics caused a plane to take off with landing gear that would not retract, the 8th Circuit ruled.
GoJet, which operates commuter flights for United Express and Delta Connection, needed a worn brake assembly replaced on one of its aircraft in November 2007.
Mechanics needed to jack the main landing gear to remove the break, and did so by installing landing gear pins that locked the assembly in place.
When they were done with the repair, however, the mechanics forgot to remove one of the pins.
This error kept the landing gear from retracting on the plane's next flight, and the pilots returned to the departure airport.
GoJet reported the error to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), under the agencies voluntary disclosure program. It also submitted a proposed fix, but the FAA inspector rejected the proposal.
When the airline missed the deadline to make a new proposal, the FAA commenced a civil penalty enforcement action.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit upheld the agency's action Tuesday, finding that GoJet's error affected the "airworthiness" of the plane, and that the airline knowingly failed to abide by the voluntary disclosure procedure.
Inoperable landing gear is clearly related to the safety of the airplane, the court said.
"GoJet's evidence that a CRJ-700 with fixed landing gear can
be flown in compliance with its type certificate through the use of approved MEL [Minimum Equipment List] procedures is irrelevant because those procedures were not used," Judge James Loken wrote for the panel (italics in original).
And, while the purpose of the voluntary disclosure program is to encourage airlines to admit their mistakes to avoid penalties, the agency was within its authority to end that procedure and begin an enforcement action when GoJet failed to honor the process.
"[Inspector Gary] Cooper's letter clearly stated his position and gave GoJet a deadline to submit a satisfactory comprehensive fix or face enforcement action," Loken said. "When GoJet elected not to accept Cooper's suggested comprehensive fix, it knew the negotiations were deadlocked and the time to seek elevation of the dispute was at hand."
The agency was not required to give GoJet further notice before terminating the voluntary disclosure proceeding, the court concluded.