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Mon, Jan 05, 2004

Egypt Crash: Was 737-300 Airworthy?

Aircraft Banned In Switzerland As "Danger To Aviation Security"

The Egyptian charter company whose 737-300 crashed into the Red Sea Saturday had been banned from Switzerland because it was, in the words of Swiss officials, "a danger to aviation security."

"If a company is forbidden (to use a country's airspace)... that means the problems are serious," said Celestine Perissinotto, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation. She said the ban was instituted after civil aviation officials found a big difference between maintenance records and a physical inspection of a Flash aircraft. It's not clear at this point if it was the same 737 that went down off the Egyptian coast Saturday, killing all 148 people on board.

"The documents were not the same as the reality of the airplane that we checked," Perissinotto told Reuters, adding that the papers had been checked by the Egyptian aviation authorities.

The official news agency MENA said Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Mohamed Shafiq Zaki denies Swiss authorities had barred the airline from landing in Switzerland. "He said that irresponsible statements should not be made in such circumstances," MENA said.

Asked about the Swiss report, an Egyptian civil aviation official said: "All aircraft belonging to private companies are subject to regular inspections according to international rules and standards, and no plane is allowed to take off until its safety has been checked."

But Sunday, French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien told a television network in his country that Swiss officials expressed their concerns about Flash Airlines' aircraft. He said French officials had some of the same reservations, but a 2003 inspection cleared Flash. "This means that the planes appeared to be in perfectly good shape," de Robien said.

But Switzerland seemed undaunted by the bill of clean health from France. "The reaction was insufficient... The company is still banned from Switzerland," Perissinotto said.

Flash Airlines executives couldn't be reached for comment.



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