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Tue, Dec 09, 2003

Maintenance Blamed For More Accidents

Related Incidents Up 16 Percent In Last Decade

Forty-two percent of all fatal airline accidents since 1994 -- aside from the September 11th attacks -- can be attributed to maintenance problems. The Charlotte Observer reports that's up 16 percent from the decade before.

"To fix a problem, you've got to admit you have a problem and identify it. We haven't gotten to admitting the problem yet," said NTSB member John Goglia. "Unless we start dealing with these issues sooner rather than later, we're going to pay the price and that could mean more deaths."

The Observer reports faulty maintenance contributed to three of the past five fatal airline accidents, including the January 8th crash of a US Airways flight taking of from Douglas International Airport in Charlotte (NC).

Regulators seem aware of the problem. Since 1990, FAA enforcement actions against maintenance companies rose an alarming 57 percent. Industry watchers are worried that, as airlines desperately look for ways to cut costs in the post-9/11 slump, there will be more and more maintenance-related accidents. But the airline industry says there is no problem. Commercial flight is "one of the safest modes of transportation," said Terry Kerber, vice president of maintenance and engineering at ATA. "Safety is at the top of everybody's organizational responsibility."

Purdue University professor Gary Eiff and a colleague conducted an exhaustive study of aviation accidents back in 1999. They found that maintenance problems were a factor in 42 percent of fatal accidents during the previous decade. "We're too quick to blame people like the pilots when a maintenance problem forces them into a position they're not equipped to handle," Eiff said.

Right now, the FAA has about 3,700 inspectors and is reportedly stretched way too thin to provide adequate oversight. The administration has asked for funding to hire another 20 inspectors next year.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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