The federal government Wednesday announced a special investigation of Texas Air Corp. to determine whether the nation's largest airline company and its management are "fit, willing and able" to carry commercial air traffic.
The investigation by the Transportation Department came as the Federal Aviation Administration announced a civil penalty of $823,000 against Eastern Airlines, a Texas Air subsidiary, because of "recurring trends" of violations of safety regulations.Transportation Secretary James Burnley told a news conference the investigation of Texas Air Corp. will be completed within 30 days and is being conducted to determine whether the company is complying with federal regulations and whether its management is competent to operate commercial aircraft.
Burnley said that one reason for the investigation is the FAA's fine against Eastern, which came just over a year after Eastern agreed to pay a $9.5 million fine in connection with other safety violations.
He said the investigation would include an in-depth review of Texas Air's financial situation and the circumstances surrounding its purchase of Eastern, which has been embroiled in almost continuous labor disputes for years.
Burnley said the department's concern was increased by a series of court decisions that have prevented Texas Air from moving a number of Eastern's operations, including its profitable northeast shuttle, into a separate subsidiary.
Texas Air, which is based in Houston, is the parent company for Eastern and Continental Airlines. Together, these two carriers account for nearly 20 percent of the commercial airline market.
In a separate action, FAA Administrator Allan McAr-tor said the FAA will begin an in-depth, 30-day inspection of Eastern that "will literally touch every one of Eastern's 267 planes" to determine whether they are being operated within federal safety requirements.
McArtor said at the same time the agency has proposed a civil penalty of $823,000 against Eastern for alleged violations already discovered in the Miami-based airline.