FAA settles with Southwest Airlines $7.5 million

WASHINGTON (AP) - Southwest Airlines will pay a fine of $7.5 million for flying planes that had missed critical safety checks.

The penalty is $2.7 million less than government regulators initially ordered.

The agreement announced today by the Federal Aviation Administration gives the Dallas-based airline nearly two years to pay the fine in three installments.

The airline was fined for flying 46 airplanes on 59,791 flights without performing mandatory inspections for fuselage cracks. The planes -- Boeing 737s -- carried an estimated 145,000 passengers.

The FAA ordered Southwest to pay $10.2 million. It would have been the largest fine in the agency's history. But the airline protested the fine and had been in negotiations with FAA for the past year.

The largest fine against an airline remains a $9.5 million penalty against Eastern Airlines in 1987. That wasn't fully paid because the airline went bankrupt.