The Federal Aviation Administration says it is undertaking a comprehensive safety inspection of Eastern and Continental airlines, but the way the 618 planes are being checked has raised concerns about the government's investigation of Texas Air Corp., the parent company of the two carriers.

The 267 Eastern Airlines jets and the 351 planes operated by Continental Airlines are receiving the most cursory inspections that the agency conducts. Aviation experts said the FAA's inspection work force already is spread too thin with other responsibilities to do anything more than very basic safety checks.These "ramp inspections" involve a visual review of the outside of the plane and the passenger areas, and typically uncover such problems as fuel leaks, worn tires, frayed seat belts or broken lights.

Airline officials and others interviewed argued that Secretary of Transportation James Burnley and FAA Administrator Alan McArtor launched their probes of Texas Air after it was clear that support was building rapidly in Congress for a full review of the company's operations.