ValuJet cuts daily flights;
FAA says airline still safe

FAA  and Valujet

May 17, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Carl Rochelle

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- ValuJet is cutting in half its daily schedule of more than 300 flights so officials can inspect all 51 of its jetliners, the airline announced Friday.

ValuJet's flights will drop from 320 on peak days, such as weekends, to about 160 flights. Although the Federal Aviation Administration began daily inspections of all ValuJet planes Wednesday, the company said the flight reductions were voluntary.

"It's our belief that our operations are completely safe," said Lewis Jordan, president of ValuJet. "The measures we are announcing today go well beyond the current FAA inspection to reassure our customers that we share their insistence on the utmost safety."

Travelers with reservations on canceled flights were being contacted, and USAir has agreed to honor their tickets as space is available, Jordan said. ValuJet would pay USAir the difference in ticket prices.

Jordan also named retired U.S. Air Force Gen. James Davis "safety czar" to oversee the airline's operations and maintenance.

"We are committed to a perfect safety record, and we will take the steps necessary for us to provide that to the traveling public," Jordan said.

If you don't meet our safety standards, you don't fly.  Period.  --Anthony Broderick, FAA Associate Administrator

ValuJet's action came just as the FAA released an internal report dated February 14 of this year that cited "safety-related issues" and recommended the airline undergo immediate recertification and a review of its maintenance policies and procedures.

"What they meant was that you go down the list of regulations that the FAA requires and ensure that each one of those regulations is complied with during the operation of the airline," said Anthony Broderick, FAA associate administrator.

'Special emphasis' review started in February

Broderick said a special emphasis review, which started two days after the February 14 report, is satisfying the recertification requirement.

Airlines must undergo a certification process set out by the FAA before they are granted an operating certificate to carry passengers. Broderick says recertification, in the FAA's terms, does not mean ValuJet is not complying with its operating certificate. (204K AIFF sound or 204K WAV sound)

Jordan Broderick

"Recertification is not a precise term as cited anywhere in the federal aviation regulations," Broderick added. "It's a loose term that we use frequently."

He said no consideration was given to shutting down the airline because of the findings in the report or because of incidents and accidents. And, he said he felt no compulsion to warn the flying public of the FAA's concerns.

"Well, I don't think the FAA should be grading airlines," Broderick said. "You either meet our safety standards or you don't. And if you don't meet our safety standards, you don't fly. Period."

He said ValuJet is still safe to fly. However, FAA and Transportation Department officials are coming under increasing criticism for their pronouncements of faith in ValuJet while internal memos and reports warned of increasing problems that could affect the airline's safety.

CNN has learned that the ValuJet plane that crashed last Saturday had an electrical problem in the cockpit area prior to leaving Atlanta for Miami earlier that day.

Before the plane left the gate in Atlanta, mechanics discovered a hydraulic pump problem that continuously tripped a circuit breaker in a compartment in the cockpit area behind the pilot's seat, according to a source familiar with the incident.

The source told CNN that the problem "could have caused the wiring to smolder momentarily before popping the circuit breaker," but added that it was very unlikely it could have resulted in a fire.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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