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Sat, May 17, 2008

DOT's Peters Wants FAA, Airlines To Communicate Better

Says Better Grasp Of AD Compliance Needed

Airlines, aircraft manufacturers and the federal government should review current procedures to avoid the kind of massive abrupt flight cancellations that left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded this April, US Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters opined Friday.

Citing lessons learned from reports submitted by the Federal Aviation Administration and American Airlines in response to last month’s massive grounding of hundreds of MD-80 aircraft -- groundings many feel were an overreaction on the part of the FAA -- Peters (right) called on the FAA and airlines to better ensure mutual understanding of what constitutes compliance with an aviation directive.

Peters added the FAA and airlines need to review and improve procedures for understanding the process, timing and criteria for requesting and approving Alternate Means of Compliance. The Secretary also called on airlines and the FAA to review existing protocols for communications to make sure that significant safety decisions are made using a clearly documented process.

"When situations of this magnitude evolve, it is critical that all parties have the right information so the right decisions can be made," Peters noted. She said the reports make clear that the FAA is the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes a safety of flight issue and that safety deadlines must always be met on time. "It’s important to note that both American and the FAA agree when it comes to aviation safety, there are no soft deadlines."

As ANN reported, over 3,300 American Airlines flights were cancelled in April after the FAA mandated checks of wiring bundles inside the main gear wells of the carrier's 300-plane fleet of McDonnell-Douglas MD-82s and MD-83s. Those groundings came after FAA inspectors found several planes out of compliance with the 2006 Airworthiness Directive mandating a 1.25-inch clearance between the wires and adjoining components.

Inspectors reportedly found bundles bound tighter than that spec -- about a one-inch clearance -- on several of American's MD-80s. That relatively minor difference has many questioning whether the FAA's strict response wasn't politically-minded posturing, in the wake of earlier revelations of missed fatigue inspections at Southwest Airlines.



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