The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has criticized Air Wisconsin’s Canadair Regional Jets out of Philadelphia for operating in January with non-working toilets and lavatories.  One jet, serving U.S. Airways Express, flew for three days with the lavatory used by food-handling employees “out of service,” FDA charged.

It was cold and windy last Jan. 3-6 in Philadelphia when FDA inspected Air Wisconsin aircraft at Philly’s Hanger 6. It is one of three Air Wisconsin maintenance bases.

The nation’s largest privately held regional airline, Air Wisconsin serves commuter routes for both U.S. Airways and United Airlines with its 70 Canadair jets.  Behind its low profile, it serves 69 cities in 26 states and two Canadian provinces.  The other two maintenance bases are in Milwaukee and Norfolk, VA.

FDA went in under authority granted to it by the federal Public Health Service Act, looking to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.  It found “significant deviations” from food-safety regulations.

Aircraft toilets and lavatories are required to be designed, constructed, and maintained to provide food-handling employees with sanitary facilities.  In a March 24 FDA warning letter to Air Wisconsin, the regional carrier was given 15 working days to correct problems found during the inspection.

FDA said a pilot called the investigator’s attention to an  “out of service” lavatory on the aircraft that is used by food-handling employees. The maintenance log showed the facility was removed from service at 8:25 a.m. on Jan. 2.

The aircraft, which is made by Bombardier Inc. in Quebec, has a 50-seat configuration and only one lavatory, located in the rear.

It was not until the closeout interview with Air Wisconsin that the carrier told FDA that particular lavatory had been repaired.  “We are concerned that the aircraft was operational for three days without operational toilet facilities and was repaired only as a directed result of our findings, and even then not for several days,” the warning letter says.

FDA found Air Wisconsin jets lacking hot running water in aircraft lavatories. The FDA inspection found water was “cold to the touch.”  It also found a “blue juice” chemical deodorizer soiling the floors of newly cleansed lavatories.

Also the handles of beverage carts used during flights were “soiled and sticky.”  The metal handle on the carts remained soiled and sticky to the touch even after cleaning.

There was a moldy substance on the hot water spigots in the galleys of the aircraft and a “black substance” on portable water inlets.

FDA also warned Air Wisconsin about its handling of ice on aircraft, and it noted it found no certificate of sanitary construction posted on any Air Wisconsin aircraft.

“Air Wisconsin is currently completing our response to the FDA letter of investigation which is due next week,” the carrier’s spokesman, Annette Daly, told Food Safety News. “We have already addressed many of the issues noted in the letter and continue to work on the remaining.  

“That said, we do take specific measures to proactively ensure the cleanliness of our aircraft, especially the galleys and lavatories.  We also have monitoring programs to assess the quality of our cleaning.  Our intentions are always to meet, and exceed, regulatory requirements, ” Daly said.