(AP) American Airlines planned to return to a full and normal flight schedule Sunday after a last day of flight cancellations on Saturday.
The largest U.S. airline canceled 200 Saturday flights, bringing the week's total to about 3,100 flight cancellations. The cancellations started on Tuesday when Fort Worth-based American grounded 300 MD-80 jets to wrap wiring bundles to meet federal safety standards and prevent fires.
As of Saturday morning, American has received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration for all but three MD-80s to return to service, American spokesman Charley Wilson said.
"That being said, we still need to get the planes positioned for their next flights," he said Saturday.
American planned to return to normal operations Saturday afternoon, but it will be Sunday morning before all MD-80s can be positioned throughout the American system to fly a full day's schedule, Wilson said.
The cancellations stranded hundreds of thousands of people during the week.
The airline's mechanics and FAA inspectors cleared more of the planes to return to service Friday. American said 226 of its MD-80s were back in service by Friday morning, and it expected the rest to be ready by Saturday night.
The groundings had come as a surprise. American officials said they thought they had the needed repair work completed two weeks ago when it scrubbed more than 400 flights, but the FAA said the wiring still was not secured and stowed properly in wheel wells.
Gerard Arpey, chairman and chief executive of American's parent company AMR Corp., said the costs of the cancellations to the airline will run into the tens of millions of dollars - including vouchers to reimburse stranded customers, overtime for maintenance crews and lost revenue. An analyst with Standard & Poor's estimated it could easily top $30 million (euro19 million).
Arpey said that neither American's mechanics nor the FAA were to blame for the groundings, and he said he took responsibility for the cancellations. He said the company would hire a consultant to help it comply with FAA safety rules in the future.
American's entire fleet averages 15 years in age, the second oldest in the industry behind Northwest Airlines, according to regulatory filings by the airlines.
Arpey said Thursday that American may accelerate the replacement of its MD-80s, but only because newer planes get better mileage, an important consideration with fuel at record prices. The CEO pointedly said the recent groundings were not a factor in the decision to replace the MD-80s.
© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.