ValuJet flies again
First flight leaves Atlanta;
September 30, 1996
Court challenge rejected
Web posted at 11:30 p.m. EDT
In this story:
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.
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.
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.
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
"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."
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
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
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
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
Correspondent John Zarrella, The Associated Press and
Reuters contributed to this report.
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