Though government inspectors found no significant safety problems within Texas Air Corp., they warn labor relations are so bad at its Eastern Airlines subsidiary that public safety could be affected.
"In a company so divided, the risk is increased that the labor-management discord will, at some time, either through inattention or design, have an adverse impact on public safety," said the report released Thursday by the Transportation Department after its unprecedented inspection of Texas Air.Transportation Secretary James Burnley announced that former Labor Secretary William Brock had agreed to intervene between Eastern management and unions to head off the concerns about safety.
The extent of labor animosity was pointed up immediately in reaction to the report that concluded the 30-day inspection of Eastern and Texas Air's other subsidiaries, Continental Airlines and several commuter fleets.
"I'm glad it's behind us," said Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo. "We are gratified that these investigations prove the unwavering commitment of Texas Air and Continental to the highest standards of safety for our passengers."
"I think it is probably the best possible report money can buy," countered union leader Charles Bryan, president of District 100 of the International Association of Machinists. "What we've got, in my opinion, is an absolute, clear whitewash."
The IAM is Eastern's largest labor union, and Bryan, who met with government officials during the investigation, criticized them for not seeking more input from airline workers. He decried the report as a product of Lorenzo influence.
Capt. Henry Duffy, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the report confirmed his union's contention that Eastern is threatened by safety problems and that a breakdown in communication could lead to more problems.
But both Lorenzo and Duffy said they were pleased Brock agreed to sit down with them, and Brock, appearing with Burnley and Allan McArtor, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said he believes both sides are eager to end the conflict.
The Transportation Department began its investigation of Texas Air in April, responding to intense pressure from Congress, and at the same time slapped Eastern with $823,000 in fines for alleged safety violations.
At the time, McArtor said the FAA was concerned about apparently repeated failures by Eastern to obey federal safety regulations. Outlining the report Thursday, McArtor said the FAA found some problems with line maintenance and several safety programs but also found Eastern had taken corrective steps.
The agency will continue to monitor those safety problems to ensure the corrections are completed, McArtor said. None of the problems uncovered would have endangered aircraft in the short term if service had continued, he said.
Because of the ramp inspections, Eastern had to pull 30 percent of its airplanes out of service for repairs at some point during the last month.
At Continental, about 14 percent of the aircraft came out of service to make repairs at some point during the month. Texas Air's commuter airlines - Bar Harbor Airways, Provincetown Boston Airlines, Rocky Mountain Airlines and Brit Airways - had to withdraw 20 percent of their planes at some point.