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Exhausted from traveling, Johnny Sigmon waits in line after his American Airlines flight to Las Vegas was canceled on April 9, 2008, at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Irving, Texas. - 


KAI RYSSDAL: It was kind of a roll of the dice for passengers scheduled on American Airlines today. For the third time in as many weeks the country's biggest carrier cancelled a sizeable chunk of its flights today, more than 1,000 of them, or about 45 percent of its regular schedule. Maintenance was once again the culprit. American said it's inspecting the wiring in its fleet of MD-80s. The company insists it's not a safety issue; it's just complying with requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration. Either way, it's expensive for the airline and its passengers.

From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: In recent weeks, Congress has criticized the FAA for being too cozy with some of the airlines it oversees. Darryl Jenkins is an independent airline consultant. He says American's latest flight cancellations have come about because the FAA wants to emphasize its independence.

DARRYL JENKINS: They need to show Congress right now that they can be tough. The fact that it's inconveniencing tens of thousands of travelers is of no consequence.

He says the FAA could have carried out the inspections over weeks, without severely disrupting Americans' flights, but the FAA says it only found out recently that American had not properly inspected its planes back in March. Joe Brancatelli runs business travel Web site JoeSentMe.com.

JOE BRANCATELLI: The Federal Aviation Administration does not have this vast crew of white-coated inspectors who do inspections of planes. What the FAA does is look at airline paperwork.

Meanwhile, American is losing millions. Darryl Jenkins again.

JENKINS: For an MD-80 fleet, each plane carries $15,000 to $20,000 worth of revenue. That's, it's a lot of money for an airline right now, and with everything else, it's adding up to a pretty significant bill for them.

Everything else includes putting stranded passengers up in hotels, feeding them and paying for them to fly on other airlines. American says the financial fallout could emerge next week when the airline reports its results.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.