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KAI RYSSDAL: If you were trying to get anywhere on American Airlines today you already know this, but some unscheduled maintenance did a number on its flight schedule. This country’s largest airline cancelled about 300 flights, 10 percent or so, to double-check wiring on some of its MD-80 airplanes. The inspections were prompted after an audit by the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler has more on the aging skies.
JEFF TYLER: The MD-80 aircraft is a short-haul workhorse that makes up almost half of the American Airlines fleet. University of Portland, Oregon finance professor Richard Gritta just flew home on one. Was he at all worried about his safety?
RICHARD GRITTA: I’m not. You know, if your number’s up, your number’s up, my sainted grandmother would say.
The MD-80s tend to be older planes, but Gritta says age isn’t the issue.
GRITTA: If you have older fleets the planes are still safe. It’s just that they require more inspections. I mean, theoretically, properly maintained, an airframe can go forever.
Newer model aircraft are less expensive to operate, but with the high cost of oil and other economic pressures,
few airlines are in a position to upgrade. Instead, they are milking every mile from existing fleets. Gritta says that’s okay, as long as the planes get proper inspections. Vahid Montevalli is director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University. He says the FAA may not have the manpower to carry out those checks.
VAHID MONTEVALLI: The overall problem is that, with budget cuts in recent years, we have a shortage of FAA inspectors and therefore the oversight is also being stretched to its limit, and so, some of these perhaps lower-priority inspections may be overlooked or fall to the side.
The issue may surface during Congressional hearings next week. Legislators are looking into the cozy relationship between the FAA and the airlines, and any impact that might have on safety.
I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.
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