Federal authorities in more than 2,000 inspections of Eastern and Continental airlines jets have so far found no "grossly unsafe" aircraft, according to the chief of the Federal Aviation Administration.
FAA Administrator Allan McArtor said Thursday that 5 percent of the inspections uncovered "minor" safety infractions that required planes to be taken out of service and at times flights to be delayed.He characterized the percentage as not unusually high.
The FAA began its plane-by-plane inspections April 13 and McArtor said they will continue through mid-May.
Both airlines are owned by the Houston-based Texas Air Corp., the country's largest airline company, which also is under a special review by the federal government.
Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley said his department's separate inspection of Texas Air's management and financial practices is half completed and "everything is going very well." Burnley did not elaborate on any of the findings so far.
Burnley and McArtor met with reporters to announce a series of organizational changes at the FAA aimed primarily at giving the agency's Washington headquarters more control over its regional offices.
But many of the questions turned to the probes of Texas Air and its two airline subsidiaries.
McArtor said there have been about 1,000 aircraft inspections at Eastern and about the same number at Continental, with many planes subjected to inspections more than once at different airports. The two airlines together have about 580 planes.
In "roughly 7 percent to 8 percent" of the inspections at Eastern and 3 percent of the inspections at Continental the inspectors found problems that required the planes to be taken out of service briefly, although in some of the cases problems were corrected quick enough so that flights were not delayed.
"These are not unusual percentages," said McArtor, adding that they likely would be "what we would find . . . at other airlines" undergoing a similarly intense series of examinations. In some cases, he said, Continental corrected problems before they came to the attention of FAA inspectors, McArtor said.
"So far, we have not found anything we would consider to be grossly unsafe on any aircraft," McArtor said. But he added that while the problems that were found "appear to be minor" they may be cause an erosion of the margin of safety if not corrected.
"We're dealing with the margin of safety" that the FAA expects the airlines to maintain, McArtor said.
No details were available on the kinds of problems that FAA inspectors have found.