FAA study raises new questions about ValuJet's safety record

FAA accidents

May 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Carl Rochelle

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An internal Federal Aviation Administration study on the safety records of low-cost airlines appears to cast doubt on official pronouncements about airline safety and the performance of the beleaguered airline ValuJet. FAA officials say it was this very study, which became public Thursday, that prompted them to step up their scrutiny of ValuJet.

Fire in June

ValuJet has had more accidents in its short history than nearly all of its competitors. The FAA study, completed just nine days before Flight 592 crashed in the Florida Everglades, says ValuJet dominated the accident data for low-cost carriers with five accidents, three of them considered serious.

Accidents do not always mean crashes, but can include many types of mishaps. To be classified as serious, someone has to be hurt or serious damage has to be done to an aircraft

And, although FAA and transportation officials have insisted low-cost carriers are just as safe as larger, established airlines, the report shows the accident rate for budget airlines is three times higher than for the majors.

However, the report cautions against drawing too many conclusions about the low-cost carriers because of their short time in existence. The FAA says the report is being misread.

"It's really been terribly mis-characterized," said FAA Associate Administrator Anthony Broderick. "When you take 14 airlines, 10 of which have a perfect accident record with zero accidents, and the other three have no fatal accidents, and the other one at the time of the writing had no fatal accidents ... that's not a bad record."


ValuJet President Lewis Jordan defended his embattled airline, telling reporters safety remains his organization's number one priority. He did not deny the report's findings that ValuJet had a higher accident rate than its competition.

"I do not have the facts, I will have the facts," Jordan said. "But I will tell you right now, I have spent the last number of days of my life dealing with human tragedy and the families and loved ones that lost their lives and I ain't bothering with a lot of statistics right now, OK?"

But the report calls into question recent assurances by FAA and transportation officials about ValuJet and airline safety.


"I have flown ValuJet, ValuJet is safe, just as all of our system is safe," Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said Sunday.

While the FAA continues to insist that it's safe to fly ValuJet, the military is not so sure. The Defense Department has ordered a temporary halt to using ValuJet.

Pentagon officials say they hold airlines to higher standards for transporting military personnel and note that ValuJet has had a higher number of safety-related incidents than other carriers.

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