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United, Delta, American cancel most Japan flights

The three largest U.S. carriers scrambled Friday to ensure that employees in Japan were safe as they re-routed passengers and aircraft bound for the earthquake-stricken country.

United, Delta and American airlines canceled many, but not all, flights to Japan Friday and offered to waive booking fees for those who opted to cancel or reschedule travel there as the country recovers from one of the largest earthquakes on record. Get the full story »

United grounds 757s to check air-data software

United Airlines has grounded its fleet of 96 Boeing 757s after determining that the planes’ air data computer software did not comply with a Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness directive.

United began testing its 757s late Tuesday afternoon and may delay or cancel flights until the process is completed in 12 to 24 hours, said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. The software checks take approximately 60 to 90 minutes per plane.

“We apologize for any inconvenience and ask customers to check their flights status on United.com before going to the airport,” McCarthy said. As of 6 p.m. Central time, United had canceled only seven flights on its Tuesday schedule, according to FlightStats.com.

United is scrambling to comply with a 2004 FAA airworthiness directive that spelled out software and hardware changes for air-data computer systems in Boeing 757, 767 and 747 aircraft. “This action is necessary to ensure that the flight crew is able to silence an erroneous overspeed or stall aural warning,” the directive stated.

On a routine maintenance check Tuesday, United discovered that it hadn’t followed all of the steps mandated by the FAA to address safety concerns with the 757 flight computers that measure air speed and monitor atmospheric conditions.

United installed the software required by federal regulators in 2004 but hadn’t performed all of the necessary checks. The 757s’ air data computer systems have been “fully functional,” McCarthy said.

Chicago-based United acted voluntarily and not at the behest of federal regulators, said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

The action does not affect Boeing 757 aircraft flown by Continental Airlines, which merged with United in October. The two continue to operate separately and won’t combine fleets, flight crews and maintenance stations until they gain a single operating certificate from the FAA.

United’s action is not related to electrical shorts that have caused some 757 windshields to crack, said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, referring to another issue that has made headlines in the last year.


Midway ranks worst in on-time performance

Crain’s Chicago Business | Less than half the December  departures from Midway Airport took off on time, according to the Department of Transportation, making its on-time performance the worst in the nation. It did better in arrivals, and United led the major airlines in on-time performance.

United, American suing O’Hare expansion

A passenger plane takes off at O'Hare as work continues in foreground on the runway expansion project. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

United and American Airlines on Tuesday made good on their threat to sue Chicago to stop the city from issuing bonds to finance the remainder of the expansion project at O’Hare International Airport.

The airlines, which say they cannot afford to help pay for new runways that will not be needed for years, filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court just days after sending  a letter on Friday to Mayor Richard Daley,  asking for negotiations on the future of the O’Hare Modernization Program. The letter said the expansion must proceed based on future increases in flights. Get the full story »

Advocates for the blind sue United over kiosks

USA Today | The National Federation of the Blind has sued United Airlines, charging that its ticketing kiosks are not accessible to blind passengers.

Business as usual at U.S. airlines after travel alert

U.S. airlines Monday said their flights and schedules were unaffected by the U.S. State Department alert issued Sunday to warn American tourists of the potential for attacks by al-Qaeda and other groups in Europe. Get the full story »