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Southwest Air jets. Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing Co. 737 aircraft sit on the tarmac at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana, California. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Southwest Airlines Co. said it would investigate the cause of an operational emergency that’s seen an “unprecedented number” of aircraft taken out of service for mechanical issues, and indicated the groundings may be related to ongoing contract talks with a labor union.

The disruptions started Feb. 12, days after the airline’s last contract talks with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, Southwest said in a statement Tuesday. The carrier declared an emergency on Feb. 15, saying maintenance employees risked being fired if they declined to take overtime assignments or failed to show up for work as scheduled, unless they have a doctor’s note.

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