Ensuring airlines are fit to fly

`THE wings of man'' have a decided droop, and the government is justified in finding out why. Eastern Airlines faces $823,000 in fines levied by the Federal Aviation Administration for alleged safety violations. The fines come roughly a year after the Texas Air Corporation, the airline's parent company, paid $9.5 million in fines levied against Eastern before its sale to Texas Air.

In addition, the FAA will inspect the airline's entire fleet.

Texas Air itself faces an exhaustive Transportation Department probe into its fitness to run airlines at all - the first such look at a major airline since 1974. Aside from Eastern, Texas Air owns Continental Airlines, what's left of People Express, New York Air, Frontier Airlines, and several commuter carriers. The major concern is that through a Byzantine financial setup, Texas Air may not be ensuring that its airlines have enough money to provide safe, adequate service. No small concern when 2 out of 10 passengers fly a Texas Air subsidiary.

The government's actions deserve support. They put passengers and the aviation industry on notice that despite deregulation, Uncle Sam is committed to competency and safety among air carriers, even if he's slow on the uptake.

We realize that the Transportation Department action takes place in a politically charged atmosphere. But the bottom line is safe, reliable air travel. If it takes congressional resolutions or prolonged union complaints to poke federal agencies into action, that only shows that in the larger political context, the system works.

But it also lays a special charge on the investigators. They now must go about their work as oblivious to politics as possible. A lot of lives, money, jobs, and reputations ride on the outcome of their work.

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