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ValuJet flies again


First flight leaves Atlanta;
Court challenge rejected

September 30, 1996
Web posted at 11:30 p.m. EDT

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ATLANTA (CNN) -- After a deadly crash and a grounding by the government, ValuJet Airlines' first flight since June 17 took off Monday afternoon from Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, bound for Dulles Airport outside Washington. Hours earlier, a flight attendants union failed in a bid to halt ValuJet's rebirth.

Cleared by federal regulators last week to resume limited operations, the no-frills carrier is offering $19 one-way fares between Atlanta and four other cities: Washington, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. Plans call for the addition of another 12 destinations by October 24, by which time ValuJet's one-way fares will have risen to $49. valujetmap

Delta and Kiwi airlines have said they will match the low introductory fares. And on Tuesday, Delta is launching a low-cost offshoot aimed at Florida-bound travelers.

ValuJet came under intense scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after the May 11 crash of Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, which killed all 110 passengers and crew members on board.

Changes made

A cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but as the investigation unfolded FAA inspectors found maintenance problems at ValuJet and the airline was forced to ground its fleet of 51 planes. A 15-week project to overhaul the airline's operations ensued.

The FAA assigned seven inspectors to oversee the airline's startup with nine DC-9's. There were only three inspectors when ValuJet was at full strength.

The re-emerging ValuJet has cut the number of outside companies that will be doing heavy and general maintenance on its airplanes. And instead of a plane containing a variety of cockpit instrument and seating configurations, the planes will be uniform.

Appeal denied

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) declared ValuJet fit to fly again last Thursday, but the next day attorneys for the union representing the airlines' flight attendants went to court in an effort to keep the discount airline grounded.

"The airline wasn't safe in May and we don't believe it is safe today unless the two top officers of the company are removed," said Association of Flight Attendants General Counsel David Borer, referring to ValuJet President Lewis Jordan and Chairman Robert Priddy.

The union accuses the two men of putting profits ahead of safety during the months preceding the Everglades crash. It filed an appealed of the DOT's approval with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but on Monday the AFA's request was turned down.

Safety questions, now

"How does ValuJet maintain low fares and safety at the same time?" asked Michael Goldfarb, former FAA chief of staff. "Keeping costs down is a priority for them."

employees Critics of the FAA and DOT oversight say the two agencies can't necessarily be counted on to police the carriers. "A lot of faith is placed upon the airline itself. The FAA has never and will never have enough resources to completely monitor the airlines," says airline safety expert Wayne Williams.

ValuJet's critics also say the carrier's past can't be ignored, citing a number of unscheduled landings during the first four and a half months of 1996. "There is no way that the top officers of a corporation that has amassed the record that ValuJet amassed can be found to be competent," said Robert Clayman, an attorney for the Association of Flight Attendants.

Safety questions, later

"If a lot of the same people are there and have the same attitudes and habits, it may regress. Once this intense FAA scrutiny passes it may go back to its old habits," Williams said.

Neither the FAA nor the DOT would comment to CNN about ValuJet. But Goldfarb described the carrier as having "probably the safest flights in America" due to the high level of recent scrutiny.

The key question is: Will ValuJet remain a safe airline in the long term? Airline safety experts say this much is certain: The FAA's intense scrutiny of ValuJet won't last forever.

Correspondent John Zarrella, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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