FAA Fining Lufthansa For Operating “Illegal” US Flights

Filed Under: Lufthansa

Apparently a major international airline can operate flights to the US for months while violating FAA policies.

Lufthansa Faces Big Fine For “Illegal” US Flights

Lufthansa is facing a $6.428 million civil penalty from the US Federal Aviation Administration for conducting almost 900 flights that were “not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.”

The FAA alleges that Lufthansa operated flights into and out of San Diego International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport without the FAA authorization required to do so.

Foreign airlines can only conduct scheduled flights into and out of airports that are listed in their FAA-issued Operations Specifications, and the FAA alleges that neither airport was in Lufthansa’s Operations Specifications.

This relates to the following flights:

  • Between March 22, 2018, and May 27, 2019, Lufthansa operated approximately 600 flights with A340-300s between Frankfurt and San Diego
  • Between October 28, 2018, and April 10, 2019, Lufthansa operated approximately 292 flights with A330-300 and 747-400 aircraft between Frankfurt and Philadelphia

Lufthansa has 30 days to respond to the FAA.

My Take On This

I have a few thoughts based on this.

First of all, it seems like Lufthansa is facing a huge fine based on a technicality here. Presumably the airline could have gotten these airports “authorized” for service without issue, but the problem was just that it wasn’t in Lufthansa’s Operations Specifications.

Second of all, it’s interesting that the FAA accuses Lufthansa of seemingly doing this intentionally, at least based on my read:

The FAA alleges Lufthansa operated the flights into and out of San Diego International and Philadelphia International airports when it knew it lacked FAA authorization to do so

Does that mean that Lufthansa should have known the rules but chose not to follow them, thinking they could get away with this, or is it possible that this was an oversight?

Lastly, this doesn’t exactly make the FAA look good. How good is the FAA as an enforcement agency if they let a major international airline operate nearly 1,000 flights to the country in violation of their agreement? Launching a new international flight is no small project, so what does it say that not a single department involved picked up on this during the process?

Forget fining Lufthansa, it sounds like someone at the FAA should be fired for allowing this to happen, if it’s such a big deal.

What’s your read on this situation?

Comments
  1. Lufthansa often thinks they are above the law. They have been doing this is Germany for years. They think they can do the same thing here. I am glad someone is standing up to them.

  2. @Jackie so they’ve been doing this in Germany for years??? Any proof?

    @Ben fairly easy case to crack.
    Until Oct 2018 PHL was operated by LH Cityline and on the 28th switched to mainline. LH most likely didn’t switch their ops certificate from Cityline to Mainline for WS18/19 and it was only updated for SS19 hence the FAA fine.

  3. Checks and balances. How do you file a flight plan and get ATC clearance if you are not authorized to operate scheduled service from an airport? Or collect taxes and pay them to the government? I’d say the FAA has more dirt on their face than LH.

  4. It’s unlikely that the issue was “Lufthansa had no authorisation to fly to San Diego”.

    FAA OpSpecs can be very specific – it is possible that it is as minor an issue as the model of aircraft used was slightly wrong – or that some flights were operated by a Lufthansa subsidiary rather than mainline – or even that a document was not updated correctly.

  5. @ Jackie please elaborate as your comments sound like BS
    an airline can’t simply operate services illegally

  6. As a San Diegan who benefits from and uses this LH flight, and as a taxpayer, I say that the FAA should “get bent”. The FAA should focus on real issues…like inspections of new Boeing aircraft.

  7. @jackie – what? I had Lufthansa as a customer of mine for services we did in aviation. They were not one to skirt rules intentionally. Would love to know where this hypothesis of yours comes from? “They have been doing this is Germany for years” – prove it.

  8. “Intentional” simply means that it wasn’t an accident that happened 900 times. Lufthansa knew that it was flying the planes and it’s also charged with knowing what routes it had applied for and had been granted—i.e., the scope of it’s licenses. Ignorance of what’s in your own files is not an excuse. If I drive large commercial trailer trucks 900 times, and the driver’s license that I applied for and carry in my wallet only allows me to drive cars and small trucks, the fact that I drove the truck well each time does not excuse me from knowing what class of vehicles my drivers license covers. I intended to drive the trucks.

  9. Looks like the FAA are starting diversionary tactics to try and divert from the MAX debacle for what appears to be a minor infraction. It’s not even clear from the FAA what the exact issue is – they’ve not cited the specific regulation involved for example.

    Are there any allegations that the LH flights were unsafe? No there are not.

    And why aren’t the FAA fining the airports for them allowing these ‘illegal’ flights to take off and land from their facilities?

    The ATC for also allowing these ‘illegal’ to take off and land and fly over US airspace?

  10. I think this is a technicality. Lufthansa had been flying these flights under the Lufthansa CityLine operation and then they reverted back to operating them under the proper Lufthansa operations. So my guess is that at some point in this change of operations they didn’t take the proper clearance required.

  11. I’ve seen this happen a few times, mainly with regional carriers, during my time in the industry. A carrier may start service to a new station and with everything going on in setting up the new service updating the operating certificate can get missed.

    The FAA takes these things seriously. The stations listed on the certificate feed a number of databases used to report statistics. Also, airport fire and rescue needs to be sized correctly for the aircraft being operated into the airport. For example, not all major commercial airports are equipped to handle A380 aircraft. Exceptions can be made for one-off events like diversions and such, but if the carrier intends to operate larger aircraft into a particular airport then the FAA definitely needs to know about it.

    Lufthansa should have known better.

  12. @Kevin – Its easy. The FAA regulates airlines and airports, but it does not operate them. In the US airports are operated by local governments or commissions. Lufthansa, as a carrier regulated by the FAA, is responsible for reporting changes to its operation. It’s not the FAA’s job to go hunting for this information.

  13. Perhaps we need to overhaul the whole concept of the FAA and replace it with separate agencies that will be responsible for airline regulations, airline operational oversights, airliner certifications, etc. so that each agency can have better focus on what they’re supposed to be doing?

  14. Also the likelihood is that the FAA has known about this for almost the whole time, and likely raised the issue with Lufthansa ages ago. I’m not super familiar with how the FAA operates as far as determining fines, but if there is an administrative judge process the reality is the whole matter has probably gone back and forth between the two the whole time. The announcement today is simply the resolution of their disagreement, in favor of the FAA.

  15. Those that want to connect LH’s issue with the MAX should remember that much in aviation involves self-management of regulations.

    The FAA is a massive organization; air traffic control obviously knows what kind of equipment each airline flies in real time but they are not an enforcement body. The likely reason why the FAA became aware months after the fact is that data from airports began to pour into the FAA’s statistics area and either someone manually or a computer saw that the airline/city/equipment used wasn’t approved (and it might have been all a manual lookup process).

    Either way, the FAA doesn’t need to build automation throughout all of its systems in order to immediately pick up that a flight is not being operated in terms of what is permitted.

    The system caught up and the onus was on LH, not the FAA, to have operated the flights in the first place. When LH did it, inadvertently or not, the FAA was certain to have acted at some point.

    I doubt very seriously that a US airline that operated outside of what they are required to do in Europe would get by with any less of a penalty – and in case of delays, it would be much, much harsher.

  16. A good way to think of the ALJ process for most agencies is an agency brings up an issue, the person or company accused of noncompliance either makes the change or appeals it and fights the interpretation of the rule or regulation. If the company or person fails to make their case to the ALJ, and the company continued doing what they were doing during the process, then they get slapped with not only the original complaint but whatever they’ve continued to do through the whole process.

  17. Follow the rules and law or pay the price like we all do. This is a stupid position on a clear subject. “Lucky” you are coming off as a moron as you often do. Onemileatatime is starting to smell like thepointsguy. Maybe you want to write about immigration and the environment next?

  18. Between the major carriers of KLM/Air France, IAG and Lufthansa group, Lufthansa group tends to be the most difficult with paying out EU/261 claims. It is well documented that they often ignore claims or pretend the law doesn’t exist. German aviation tend to let them go due to Lufthansa group’s lobbying power. There are other instances where Lufthansa do not obey the rules and thinks they can get away with things.

  19. Those that think the FAA is just picking on Lufthansa need to understand that global aviation is based on the airlines of each country meeting the requirements of each aircraft in its fleet to the each country that aircraft touches.
    Lufthansa does not have to meet FAA requirements for aircraft that do not ever touch the US – but they have to provide the exact aircraft identification for aircraft that fly to the US – and the same thing happens for nearly every other country.
    Delta and United cannot send a 767-400 to China if it has not provided documentation on that type and the specific numbers to China.
    US airlines are not even permitted to swap operating airlines under its ownership in international air service; i.e. Delta cannot swap an Endeavor operated aircraft on a flight to a Caribbean country unless it has received all of the approvals for the US AND that specific country and possibly including specific aircraft numbers.

    Those who are quick to pass judgment would do well to know the rules involved and also how those rules have been enforced in the past.

    No, the FAA isn’t nitpicking and no it isn’t diverting attention from the MAX. It is doing the same thing it has done in the past and other aviation regulators around the world do the same thing; just because social media didn’t spread what happened before doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  20. @Frequent Flier

    Are you that naive to think that we ALL obey the rules and pay the appropriate price for breaking said rules? Stick your head out the window.

  21. This is why government and regulations often do nothing but harm everyone except the bureaucrats who create paperwork for themselves. What difference does it make if Lufthansa listed these flights in their operation specification: none. They operated flights. Any objection is arbitrary and capricious. A very deep place in hell is reserved for bureaucrats and the police who carry out their orders.

  22. Give me a day and I’ll write a webcrawler that will make a list of the every flight bookable by every foreign airline into the US. If the FAA puts up a URL with the list of all authorized US destinations from all foreign airlines, I’ll spit out a list of all the current violations. if I could out thegetht this tool in a day, I am sure the FAA could manage it. It is definitely the FAA that looks stupid here.

  23. Wow.. a lot of crazy assumptions by the author (and some commenters). If you don’t know don’t write an article acting like you are an authority. You could have just written the facts without all the crazy accusations.

    Everyone in the flight department knows and has access to the Op Specs. It’s even in the pilot’s manuals and they are also required to know them. The FAA doesn’t micromanage an airline, that’s not their job. It’s the airline’s responsibility to know and comply with the Op Specs that they were approved for.

    If someone was fishing without a fishing license for 4 months before he got caught. Some of you would be “hOw dID tHE gaMe WArdEn leT hIm gEt aWAy wItH iT so lOnG. He ShOUld hAve gIveN hIM a tICkEt oN thE FirSt dAY!”

  24. The FAA should probably also be hauling SAN and PHL into court for allowing “illegal” flights as well. It isn’t like a 747-400 just shows up one day out of the blue…

  25. So the going rate is $6,600 per flight that violates this rule? Assume a 200 pax per flight average – $33 per person.
    I guess the FAA need the money.
    Looking back on FR24 on the FRA-PHL route, 10/28/18 is when LH switched from CityLine to Lufthansa, so wetlease to LH but from October 2017, those wetleases were being ended and pilots were being moved to LH. Seems like a technicality, but sounds to me like the FAA knew about this for a while until it was financially worth their while to fine.
    Shame the FAA can’t crack down on real issues in the aviation industry in the US – particularly overworked and underpaid pilots, FAs, maintenance, ground crew, ATC. Airlines overbooking, colluding on fares. Instead, go for the foreign low hanging fruit.
    $6 million is nothing, but I hope LH appeal for fun. It’ll cost the FAA more in legal fees.

  26. @Lucky
    I see Get a life is taking us down the dark path towards comments being moderated. Hopefully we can block IPs.

  27. Im wondering what it takes to add an airport to LH’s opspecs. If this is just a matter of filling out an online form that automatically gets approved, then who cares. But if LH didn’t do a required technical review of airport facilities, wingtip clearence analysis, CFR capabilities etc. Then they deserve the fine.

    Im guessing the German government would do the same thing if the offender was a US carrier.

  28. NO WAY this was an oversight !!
    Id like to see a US airline get away with this anywhere ..
    What do they think, its a free for all in the US.

  29. @BillC agree FAA needs work but- MORE GOV’T AGENCIES?/???
    All due respect, a) more and bigger govt has never been a good thing for the airline industry and b) if we did have 4,5,6 agencies would we really expect them to work together any better than, say, FBI and CIA did in years leading up to a very bad day in Sept ‘11?

  30. @BillC agree FAA needs work but- MORE GOV’T AGENCIES?/???
    All due respect, a) more and bigger govt has never been a good thing for the airline industry and b) if we did have 4,5,6 agencies would we really expect them to work together any better than, say, FBI and CIA did in years leading up to a very bad day in Sept ‘11?

  31. @CaptEZ just looking at the FRA-PHL route, switching from an A340-600 (up to 10/28/18) to a B744 (from 10/28/18) wouldn’t be an issue, and I’m sure they worked with PHL on the switch. The 744 is 16’ shorter and wingspan is 3’3” wider, so wouldn’t be much different. The issue here was clearly someone messed up administratively as LH were in the process of moving all wetlease CityFlyer crew and aircraft to LH. Someone at LH seemingly forgot to tell the FAA, or the FAA didn’t receive it. Just seems odd/fishy to me that the FAA would wait until 900 flights had violated their rule before the FAA bothered to tell them.

  32. This doesn’t even remotely make no sense. One no commercial flights can fly unless given approval first. Second, more than one agency has to be notified of any operating changes. Lastly, to many people knew about the flights to say this was some kind of overt violation.

  33. It’s unrealistic that in an airline with standards and quality like Lufthansa,that ,operations department employees file 900 flight plan without obtaining authorization or concession from the FAA,even temporary.Usually an airline wouldn’t risk ,and loose its profit ,if there’s a serious issue like fines.

  34. Wow. Lots of stupid opinions here based off of partial information and little to no knowledge of how things actually work. There’s a lot of work that goes into fining an operator; this takes time, and the involvement of many departments including attorneys before the letter goes out. Like some of you said, it isn’t the FAAs job to micromanage operators, but once they catch wind of non-compliance of regulations, the long arm of the law will eventually catch up to violators. And no, this isn’t some “capricious” nitpicking- ever hear of the broken window theory? If we’re going to disregard some laws, why waste each other’s time and let’s just dismiss them all, shall we? Smdh.

  35. Sounds like they were operating a subsidiary and switched to the mainline and someone goof up with Lufthansa or the lawyers interpreted that the change to hte Ops SPec was not needed. Heck, the cost ot update the Ops SPec might have been expensive and time consuming.

    Also Possible that update was in progress and Lufthansa rather than lose the route during the change and waiting for the beauacracy to slower approve the change, decided to “take the penalty”. Impact to operations revenues and loss of market share of waiting might have been 100MM or more.

    900 flights is actually not very many for a major airline. That’s a slow afternoon.

  36. Impound the planes and fly them to Davis-Monthan in Tuscon and hold them until the fine is paid. Release all the American passengers at the destination. Pilots and plane are held in custody for 30 days or until the fine is paid. After that the aircraft is fitted with remote controls and use as target practice for USAF fighters.

  37. They will pay the money, YA don’t get in a piss-off with the FAA. You’re not a International Airline unless you fly to the Good Old U.S. of A. Cross the T and dot the I , that is aviation. And yes, there is pay back coming for all those countries who jumped on the band wagon of grounding the MAX without knowing what caused the two accidents. The lesson here : don’t get carried away with you own importance when the other guy has all the cards you want to play with. The FAA knows what is going on and they often will give you enough rope to hang from. OH YA, “I didn’t see the stop sign” , is not a legal defense for running multiple STOP signs.

  38. Maybe the FAA was busy certifying the Boeing 737 max while Lufthansa was running wild over the US skies ,everything is all fake news and media manipulation:-)

  39. My read is that this is extraordinarily silly, because *THESE WERE NOT NEW ROUTES*. LH has been operating both these routes for *DECADES*. That means the FAA absolutely did know LH was serving these routes and airports, and that LH had every reason to believe that the FAA knew about them. It must have just been a paperwork oversight by someone at LH. $6.4mil is one helluva fine for very slightly flubbed paperwork. It also seems to me that the FAA is being disingenuous here claiming that they had no knowledge of the service, probably just so that they can collect the fine. This is the same as getting a ticket for going 36 in a 35 zone; authorities claim it’s for safety when everyone knows it’s only for revenue.

  40. I took my first international flight on Lufthansa DC10 out of PHL in 1988. So when did it become illegal for them to operate out of that airport? Maybe the FAA needs to keep better records.

  41. The FAA takes this as seriously as they should.
    The system is such that the airlines should police themselves…. and when they cheat, the should be fined. That’s the way it should work. (Ben, get a clue)

  42. @JAYFLY + @JSFLY — “… agree FAA needs work but- MORE GOV’T AGENCIES?/???
    All due respect, a) more and bigger govt has never been a good thing for the airline industry and b) if we did have 4,5,6 agencies would we really expect them to work together any better than, say, FBI and CIA did in years leading up to a very bad day in Sept ‘11?” —

    I totally understand where you’re coming from! But here’s my take — the FAA, as it’s currently structured, has been said to have conflicting roles of regulating the airline industry, while also being an advocate for the airline industry that it’s supposed to regulate. As such, some have said that such an arrangement can only create problems for its identity. And once the FAA got to be the bureaucratic behemoth that it is, things only move like molasses, if at all. We all know that large bureaucracies buckle under its own dead weights, and things fall through countless cracks, right?

    What I’m suggesting is that we break up the FAA into smaller components that are not intertwined to the extent that it is now, where allocated functions are not being adequately or efficiently carried out. With a smaller and more focused set of tasks, management can be much more engaged and effective. As for coordinating with other sibling agencies, once each has its specific tasks well defined and well compartmented, the idea is that interactions can be reduced to those that are absolutely necessary, rather than just being “part of the mix” …

    So … break the FAA into smaller groups with better defined and specific focus areas of responsibilities, rather than maintaining the current monolithic bureaucratic behemoth!

  43. @Bond james — “Maybe the FAA was busy certifying the Boeing 737 max while Lufthansa was running wild over the US skies, …” —

    LOL! So the FAA just can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, huh? Good one! 😛

  44. What, have a FAA personnel be accountable? Wow, maybe you should be drug tested or something. If FAA personnel were to be held accountable some of them would be in prison for the 737 Max fiasco.

  45. These comments suck. FAA just trying to justify it’s over inflated budget. A 15 billion dollar agency should of noticed the first flight, not the 900th. What’s the point?

  46. Some folks on this site obviously know what they are talking about (Alex, Frank Beans, Tim Dunn, Gregg,). Others (Jackson Hewitt, Rennie Allen, Kevin, Alway Flying Somewhere, Lucky, Mark, JKT) obviously don’t.

  47. It is the FAA that allowed Boeing to fly unsafe airplanes and the FAA that approved the consolidation of the US airline industry from the competitive marketplace it once was to a monopoly. The result in Philadelphia is that 90% of the flights in and out of PHL are owned by American Airlines, a company with a pathetic reputation for service (reference? search-term American Airlines in Google Business News. ). PHL, once a decent International airport is now relegated to the status of a second rate regional airport and rated as one of the worst airports in the USA. Kudos to Lufthansa for even flying to PHL, offering thousands of travelers a viable travel option to Europe.

  48. If you read on you find these flights were previously approved by the FAA under Luftthansa Cityline (hence FAA knew these flights were coming and going). Lufthansa then changed the flights to fly under their main carrier entity. Someone at Luftthansa forgot to file some paper work but no flights “snuck” into the US. These weren’t additional flights, they have been coming and going for quite some time. More than likely this is the FAA prodding Lufthansa to get their paperwork updated for these flights.

  49. I plan to book through Expedia a roundtrip from PHL to PRG stop at FRA from 6/30 thru 7/11. I believe the flight may list as United but the flight will be Lufthansa. Will I have any problems?

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