ValuJet sprucing up, scrubbing down for return to air
August 30, 1996
From Correspondent Charles Zewe
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Fresh from getting back its operating certificate, ValuJet is preparing for a return to the skies, starting with scrubbing two months of sun-baked grit from its planes.
"It's a very hard job, but worth it to get them flying again," said Sky Clean's Dan Williams.
Interiors have been repainted, the upholstery now matches, and mechanics are going over all the inner workings under the watchful eye of federal inspectors.
"We're doing the best we can to get the airplanes safe and air-worthy," said ValuJet mechanic Tom Hawkins.
ValuJet voluntarily grounded itself following the May 11 crash of one of its DC-9s in the Florida Everglades. All 110 people aboard were killed.
Investigators think oxygen generators in the hold of the aircraft may have caused the crash. Initially, however, slipshod maintenance was suspected -- something ValuJet workers still deeply resent.
"We really care about what we're doing here, always have and always will," said David Galvarin, a ValuJet line maintenance supervisor.
When ValuJet starts flying again, they'll start with nine planes instead of the 51 they flew when they were grounded. And initial fares, airline officials say, will be lower than before, in a move designed to attract customers again.
However, industry analysts are wondering whether the flying public will be willing to trust the airline again.
"Consumers will probably come back if they think it's a legitimate airline at this point, if they can save some money and the flight schedules are convenient, and there are no other problems," said Salomon Brothers airline analyst Mark Altherr.
In trying to rebuild public confidence, ValuJet has made other changes. It will now rely on two outside contractors instead of six for heavy maintenance. Training has been revised and maintenance manuals rewritten.
"We're confident as the most inspected airline in the world with the most cautious FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) this nation has ever seen, that ValuJet has a clean bill of health it can be very, very proud of," Lewis Jordan, ValuJet president, said Thursday.
But the Association of Flight Attendants believes the most important change has yet to be made. The union wants the FAA to fire Jordan and ValuJet Chairman Robert Priddy for alleged incompetence.
"Someone had the analogy: You have fixed the car, but you can still have a reckless driver. And that's a perfect description of how to describe ValuJet and how it will be if Lewis Jordan and Robert Priddy remain at the helm," said Susan Clayton of the flight attendants' union.
Investors apparently disagree with Clayton's grim assessment of ValuJet's current management. ValuJet stock was up 14 percent Friday after the news that ValuJet might be flying again soon. The airline is reportedly sitting on $200 million in reserves, despite the crash and shutdown.
Jordan estimated it would be two or three weeks before flights resume. ValuJet said it plans to offer service to four cities out of Atlanta, its headquarters.
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