Senator Claims Discrepancies Going Unreported
Two weeks into a
sweeping mechanics strike at Northwest Airlines, it appears on the
outside the carrier's operations have remained mostly unscathed.
The planes are still flying, after all, seemingly affected far more
by the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on schedules and
fuel prices than by the 4400 striking members of the Aircraft
Mechanics Fraternal Association... right?
Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) says that isn't the case. According
to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the senator has alleged
nothing short of a cover up of Northwest's maintenance and safety
issues by the Federal Aviation Administration.
After being contacted with a list of concerns by a union
representing FAA inspectors, the Professional Airways Systems
Specialists (PASS,) Dayton submitted a letter to the agency and to
the Inspector General of the US Department of
Among the charges by PASS are allegations that the FAA pulled
one of its inspectors from Northwest's operations after the airline
complained, and that as many as 470 inspectors reports have not
been entered into the FAA's database since the Northwest strike
began August 19.
Most disturbing, however, is the charge that somewhere between
58% to 90% of those unsubmitted reports cited defects concerning
the safety of the airline's practices and equipment, compared to a
typical defect rate of 3-5 percent at Northwest before the strike
According to PASS, a reported defect rate of 9% would be enough
to flag an internal alert at the FAA.
Reaction from the DOT
and the FAA has been swift. DOT Spokesman David Barnes said the
agency has begun an inquiry to determine if a full-scale
investigation is warranted, while the FAA said that the agency
would act immediately to correct any issues discovered in such an
The FAA maintains that Northwest's fleet of airplanes, the
oldest among domestic carriers, is safe.
"With respect to our oversight of Northwest since the strike
began, the intensity level remains," FAA Spokesman Greg Martin
said. "We continue to watch them very, very closely. If we find
something that's wrong, they have to fix it before they fly."
Northwest also issued a statement denying the charges, and
reiterating its commitment to safety, immediately following the
news of Dayton's letter.
If the allegations are proven true, it would likely give added
credibility to AMFA's claims that Northwest's planes are less safe
in the care of non-union mechanics.