Ensuring aircraft safety

THE Federal Aviation Administration is taking the proper step in ordering an inspection of the facilities where jet engines are repaired. A substantial number of questions now are being raised about the maintenance and repair of aircraft, prompted in part by the high number of fatalities in airline crashes this year. This aspect of air safety has focused primarily on two issues: Does the FAA have enough inspectors to check all airlines, their training, maintenance, and repair records and procedures? Some in Congress think not and seek an increase in personnel, beyond the 130 additional inspectors to be hired next year. Since deregulation a sizable number of new airlines have sprung up; all this extra paperwork has spread the FAA's existing inspectors much thinner.

With the increased competition among airlines since deregulation, are some of the firms with shaky economic underpinnings yielding to the temptation to save money by cutting corners on maintenance, repair, or training? Some former employees contend this problem is springing up. Such charges are extremely serious; they should be thoroughly investigated by the FAA.

There's something else the FAA should do in the course of its current probe into engine repair: Examine more engines and planes after they have been repaired.

Unquestionably the paper records of maintenance and repair should be reviewed: A careful inspector sometimes can spot variations from proper procedures.

Yet no mere piece of paper can tell even the most careful inspector whether the repairs have been performed as planned, or what quality the repair work was. That requires actual scrutiny of the planes involved and should be done more often, its frequency determined by experience with each carrier. If still more inspectors are thereby required, they should be provided: There can be no compromise with safety.

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