Airline Inspections Get Closer Look

DOT says there is no place for "turning a blind eye" to safety in the skies.


April 18, 2008— -- Travelers bracing for more cancellations due to plane inspections ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration received reassurance today that the government is trying to fix the problem.

On Friday, the Department of Transportation and the FAA tackled aviation safety and air travel disruptions by announcing plans to clean up the FAA's faltering image.

"There is no place, no place at all in this agency, for anyone who is interested in turning a blind eye to the safety of our skies," said Mary E. Peters, secretary of the Department of Transportation.

Acting FAA administrator Robert Sturgell joined Peters for Friday's announcement.

"This is not a crackdown, it's not getting tough," Sturgell said of the ongoing inspection and maintenance audits. "It is simply trying to verify and demonstrate that the system we are using today is working and it's working effectively."

Peters announced a new program to alert local, regional and Washington, D.C., personnel when an inspection is overdue. She said the FAA also will create new national inspection teams to go to different areas to check that airlines are in compliance. They'll also designate senior FAA officials in field offices to sign off on voluntary disclosures to try to ensure the FAA isn't too cozy with the industry it regulates.

Given the more than 3,000 American Airlines cancellations in early April, both American and the FAA will be required to independently issue reports within 14 days detailing what happened. The transportation secretary said she doesn't believe there will be another situation as widespread as the FAA continues its inspection work.

"I absolutely don't think there was an overreaction," Peters said about the cancellations. She added that it's still important to take a closer look at the cancellations because "no one at all was well served by what happened last week."

To make sure other airlines are prepared in the event of more mass cancellations, the transportation department asked all carriers to make a plan to deal with groundings.

Peters also named a five-person, bipartisan panel to examine FAA inspection procedures and provide a report within 120 days detailing how to better safeguard the skies.

In the meantime, the FAA faced criticism from Congress Thursday, at the latest of several spring hearings, for the way it has handled inspections.

"We need an FAA that actually fixes problems as they are found rather than one that rushes into a public relations campaign to assure everyone that there isn't a problem," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"I sympathize and apologize for the stress last week's cancellations caused the flying public," Sturgell said Thursday.

Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation also announced plans it hopes will provide extra incentives for customers. Starting next month, passengers who are bumped from flights will receive double the current compensation -- up to $800 -- from airlines for their inconvenience. The Department of Transportation also held the first of several aviation consumer forums Thursday in Miami to listen to passengers' concerns.

Still, facing record high fuel prices, it remains a challenge for the airlines to please customers. They have turned to travelers to bear some of those rising costs by increasingly asking customers to pay for services once included in the price of a ticket. Passengers are now forking over more money, whether to check a second bag, score a window seat in the front of the plane or help the airlines offset the high price of fuel with a surcharge on their ticket.

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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