Air Transport World

The commuter-regional industry is fighting to forestall rules changes and to protect its good name in the public eye.

It is ironic. During the year 1983 when U.S. commuter/regional airlines were racking up their best-ever safety record, they were branded as seven times less safe than their larger jet-flying brother carriers, while the record of aircraft seating nine or fewer people was shown to be 18 times worse.

This dubious distinction was attached to the industry last September as a result of several actions, all of which vaulted small air carriers--especially those operating aircraft seating nine or fewer--into the national limelight.

The initial impetus came from an in-house report on commuter air safety prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Soon thereafter, when a draft copy came into congressional hands, a hearing was called in September by the House Investigations and Oversight SUbcommittee, chaired by Rep. Elliot Levitas (D-Ga). The hearing was significant in that it called for public comment on a report which had not yet been made public--final release was not until January 4. Explosive ingredient

An explosive ingredient to what has now become a major controversy between the commuter/regional airline industry, various government regulatory agencies and congressional committee was added on October 11th when a 48-passenger BAe 748 turboprop, Air Illinois Flight 710, crashed near Carbondale,Ill., resulting in the death of ten--seven passengers and a crew of three.

A week-long hearing, called by the National Transportation Safety Board, the watchdog on air safety as well as most forms of surface and marine transport, called upon 24 witnesses to give their views as to the "why?" of the accident.

The November hearing uncovered a pattern of unsolved maintenance problems and inadequate record keeping by the airline. Also, the hearing showed that some unprofessional habits had become ingrained in the company. The airline surrendered its operating certificate to the FAA shortly after the first stage of the hearings when it became apparent the agency was about to take it.

NTSB soon is to re-convene the hearing in Washington, D.C., where the primary aim is to explore FAA effectiveness and its procedures for monitoring commuter/regional operations and their conformance to regulations.

Added to the already bubbling safety stew is a congressional call to halt FAA reductions in the airline field inspector force, a reduction made to keep the agency within budget constraints at a time when nearly $4 billion lay unspent in the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. …

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