(Updated at 5:40 p.m. with cargo figures for San Diego International Airport)
Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s disregard for conduct flights at unauthorized airports is the worst case the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has seen involving an airline operating outside its specified authority, according to an agency spokesman.
Last week, the FAA announced its intent to fine the German carrier $6.4 million for allegedly conducting almost 900 flights in and out of San Diego International and Philadelphia International airports between March 22, 2018, and May 27 of this year, even though Lufthansa knew it lacked FAA authorization to do so.
Under FAA regulations, foreign airlines operating in the U.S. must create detailed operating specifications and follow any procedures contained in them. Lufthansa’s operating rights didn’t permit it to fly to San Diego and Philadelphia at the time, but the FAA charges that the airline knowingly did so anyway.
Foreign airlines can only conduct scheduled flights through airports that are listed in their FAA-issued Operations Specifications, and the FAA alleges neither airport was in Lufthansa’s Operations Specifications.
“We are not aware of any previous case where an air carrier allegedly violated this aspect of their Ops Spec in such a blatant manner,” an FAA spokesman told FreightWaves in a Dec. 2 email.
Following operating specifications is important to ensure that a carrier’s fleet is capable of landing at and taking off from a particular airport, and having approved airports listed in an airline’s profile enables the FAA to perform scheduled ramp inspections of aircraft, he said.
However, a ramp inspection is less likely to occur if the aircraft is flying into or out of an airport that is not designated in the carrier’s operations specifications for scheduled flights, the spokesman said. Lufthansa likely was caught because of a random inspection or because it experienced an incident at one of the locations that was brought to the attention of authorities.
The FAA said Lufthansa conducted about 600 unauthorized flights with Airbus A340 aircraft from Frankfurt to San Diego and about 292 flights to Philadelphia with Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 747-400 aircraft without pre-approval.
“Lufthansa is fully cooperating with the FAA on this matter and will be addressing the regulatory issues involved with the Agency,” the company said in a statement. “Lufthansa is globally committed to compliance with all laws and regulations. There are no allegations raised by the FAA that the security or safety of any flights was compromised in any respect. The safety and security of our passengers remains the highest priority of the Lufthansa Group.”
Lufthansa’s cargo subsidiary handles 5,000-7,000 tons of cargo per year in Philadelphia, airport authority spokeswoman Heather Redfern said.
Lufthansa has hauled 2,754 tons of cargo through San Diego since it began service there in March 2018, according to statistics provided by the airport.
Lufthansa Cargo is the seventh largest air cargo carrier as measured by revenue ton kilometers, according to the International Air Transport Association, and the fifth largest if express carriers FedEx Express and UPS are not included.