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FAA Aims For Kinder, Gentler Airline Oversight

But Carriers Still Wary Of Agency's Motives

The recent voluntary grounding of regional jets by Atlantic Southeast Airlines evoked memories of last year's harsh actions against Southwest and American Airlines over maintenance and documentation issues. So... will we see another spring travel season marred by the strandings of tens-of-thousands of passengers due to FAA action?

The Dallas Morning News reports the FAA is trying to avoid such a recurrence. The paper notes American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, recently discovered its mechanics had incorrectly reassembled pieces of a thrust reverser. But instead of again shutting down hundreds of flights, the airline and the agency agreed on a process which avoided disrupting the public's travel plans.

John Allen, FAA director of flight standards service, says the agency has learned a lot.

"We all have learned a lot since that time, and the winner is the American public," said Allen. "They get to not have aircraft grounded and impact their flying schedule, as occurred last spring."

It was feared by some that claims the FAA had become too cozy with the airlines it is charged with regulating would result in more aggressive action this year, threatening the reliability of airlines.

Allen says the FAA is preparing a report that will provide guidance to inspectors in judging the seriousness of a violation. "It's going to provide a flow chart, if you will, and a process to help our inspectors not be black and white, but be more understanding of the nuances and who to reach out to," he said.

Tim Wagner, spokesman for American, said his airline and others are still watching their backs after the sudden FAA crackdown last year. In the past, he says, technicians "used to be trusted to do work that met the safety requirements of an airworthiness directive, even if it didn't match the extreme letter of the law," he said. "But now the FAA is administering to the letter of the law, and we are adjusting to that change in how the FAA operates."

Wagner also notes the FAA has stepped up the number of investigations it conducts after last year's flap.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.aa.com

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