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South Metro Airport Action Council
** S M A A C **

Looking at the Northwest Mechanics‚ Strike the Politically Incorrect Way: What about Safety?

By Jim Spensley, SMAAC President

It seems to me, as well as to other observers, that FAA here, in Detroit, and at Memphis shouldn’t just be running around monitoring the work quality of fill-in or scab aircraft mechanics. Instead, FAA and airport managers should be slowing the pace of flight operations, including reducing flight schedules. There was a reason so many mechanics are needed: larger and larger hubs. NWA airliners congregate at their hubs, and all need to be serviced quickly. If this is done with fewer mechanics, there should be fewer flights for the same level of airport safety.

Peak rates at MSP have increased steadily, and with adjustments made in air traffic control to clear runways faster, airplanes and ground vehicles are moving faster and at about the same time. Higher runway use rates require that aircraft are operated more strenuously. A NWA DC-10 recently lost a 200-pound part just after take-off. The DC-9 involved in the recent collision had a history of maintenance issues. Another airliner was forced to return to MSP after a large part fell off during take-off. The Airbus crash in New York (November 2001) involved the failure of a once-repaired part under hard use due to turbulence from the jet just ahead.

Today, airliners are highly instrumented, have complex and varied systems, and use high-tech parts -- from tiny electronic components to large composite structural members and skins. Aircraft maintenance is very complex and certification of mechanics and facilities is certainly needed. Also, more facilities are needed because of more airliners flying more often to more places. More, and more dispersed, facilities are difficult and expensive to support, and they are more difficult to inspect and certify. That's why FAA dispatched 65 inspectors to NWA maintenance bases when the strike was announced.

Since airline de-regulation, the larger airlines, their suppliers, and their employees, contract or in-house, increased their attention to lobbying. The major (or "legacy") airlines gained market share at, increased flights to, and now dominate the few large hubs as a result of Federal subsidies, FAA budget decisions, and changes in Federal safety rules and standards. NWA even argued against building a fire station and training facility. That these same entities participate as usual in airport safety, construction, and operational decisions at MSP during specific accident investigations is unacceptable.

MAC avoids public debate on, and misleads the public about, safety, pollution, noise and other policies, using technical and legal complexities as a tool. Each time public representatives became knowledgeable enough to question plans or forecasts, they are replaced. But the same airline reps, the same consultants, and the same staff lead elected officials through the historical and legal maze erected by airport insiders. The Legislature should hold hearings that allow aviation safety experts, aviation-industry critics, and environmental law consultants to testify. Little was gained from the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last year, when 3 Mayors suggested a State-wide aviation plan, perhaps limiting MAC's authorities slightly, and MAC Chair Vicki Tigwell testified that all was well, safe, quiet, and environmentally reasonable at MSP.

 
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