FAA says new maintenance program is proceeding on schedule


Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal Aviation Administration officials say they are making progress with a new airline safety system that targets specific areas for improvement.

The Air Transportation Oversight System provides national standards for FAA inspectors and the airlines to follow in 95 different areas, including deicing, crew scheduling and maintenance training. It allows the FAA and the airlines to focus their attention and personnel on areas found to have problems.

The FAA offered its own assessment on Monday, three days before Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead is scheduled to tell Congress that the agency has not finished developing the program and hasn't provided its inspectors with the necessary training.

Mead and Nick Sabatini, FAA's associate administrator for regulation and certification, are scheduled to testify Thursday before the House aviation subcommittee.

FAA officials said they were on schedule for expanding the program. It now focuses on the nation's 10 largest carriers, which carry 95 percent of U.S. passengers. ``We're confident that we have it right,'' said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Inadequate maintenance may have contributed to the January 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which killed 88 people. A maintenance problem was overlooked by both the airline and the FAA, the inspector general said.

Following the crash, the FAA reviewed the maintenance programs of nine major airlines and reported in February that the carriers had made improvements.

The new FAA system, started in 1998, involves some 500 inspectors, who certify airline safety programs and then do periodic audits to make sure the procedures are followed.

The program evaluates a particular airline's maintenance program and concentrates on those areas most in need of improvement and crucial to safety. For example, one airline failed to give its relief pilots enough flying experience, so it provided more training.

The FAA formerly offered generic checks of all procedures and did not have uniform standards for its inspectors to follow.