WASHINGTON — Arrow Air, the Miami-based passenger and cargo airline whose chartered DC-8 crashed Thursday in Newfoundland, was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration last year for a number of "deficiencies" associated with its rapid expansion.
The fiery accident that killed 258 U.S. military personnel and crew members on takeoff was the first fatal crash for the four-year-old airline, company officials said.
At the Pentagon, Assistant Defense Secretary for Public Affairs Robert B. Sims said the carrier had been inspected last February by the Military Airlift Command and found to be satisfactory.
The firm, started by airline entrepreneur George Batchelor, is part of his group of privately owned aviation companies, which also includes Batch-Air and International Aero Leasing, both of Miami.
Trying to Expand
Sources familiar with the now-defunct Civil Aeronautics Board remember Arrow at the time of its founding as a "fringe airline that was trying to become a bigger operator with more routes."
"They were taking anything they could get," one source recalled.
Last year Arrow was the carrier involved when a tour group called Value Vacations went bankrupt, stranding hundreds of travelers overseas. Arrow, which had supplied the charter planes, refused to fly the vacationers back to the United States, and a class-action suit was filed in New York against the airline on behalf of the passengers.
Arrow operates scheduled passenger service to Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Orlando and Tampa, Fla., San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Cancun, Mexico. About one-fourth of the company's business is reported to be passenger operations.
The use of chartered airliners to transport military troops overseas is common, and Arrow conducts about $33.6 million worth of charter business with the Defense Department, according to Col. Charles W. McClain Jr., a Pentagon spokesman.
Most Fly on Charters
McClain said 95% of U.S. military personnel who fly overseas are carried by commercial charter airlines, rather than by Military Airlift Command or other government airplanes.
McClain said most military transports are designed to carry cargo rather than passengers. According to Sims, the assistant defense secretary, these arrangements are made "usually for reasons of economy."
"If there is a plane that is available in a region that can be chartered to fly from Point A to Point B, and you can get it for a certain price that is less than sending an aircraft from some distant point using fuel, crew and so forth, you do that," Sims said. "We don't pretend to fly everyone by military aircraft--never have."
In this case, the airplane had been chartered by the Multinational Force and Observers, whose headquarters is in Rome, rather than by the U.S. military, because the soldiers had been serving as part of the U.S. contingent to the international peacekeeping unit in the Sinai Peninsula.
3 MAC Contracts
Pentagon officials said Arrow had three current contracts with the Military Airlift Command, had taken one planeload of Sinai troops home last week and was scheduled to carry another planeload home next week.
Last year the FAA told Arrow to delay any expansion plans until it corrected deficiencies uncovered during a nationwide inspection of 400 airlines. When the inspections were conducted in March, 1984, the rapidly expanding airline was undergoing a thorough reorganization and was operating seven Boeing 707 airliners, 13 McDonnell Douglas DC-8s and two McDonnell Douglas DC-10s.
According to spokesman Roger Myers of the FAA's Atlanta office, "There currently are five civil penalty actions proposed against the carrier. These are mostly in regard to bookkeeping and paper work. They have nothing to do with the operations of the carrier."
The FAA inspection report also noted that during Arrow's period of rapid growth, the airline placed additional aircraft into service without revising a number of its manuals, including those for DC-8 operators. The FAA further cited inadequate flight crew training records and deferred maintenance as problem areas.
"Arrow operates their fleet of aircraft with many deferred maintenance items, which in some cases are carried for months without corrective action," FAA investigators said.
The FAA also released a letter dated last June showing that Arrow agreed to pay a $34,000 civil fine for violations of federal regulations back to 1983 that included failure to perform required inspections, deferred maintenance and inadequate record keeping.
Company officials did not return a reporter's telephone calls Thursday night.
The Arrow Air DC-8 that crashed Thursday was originally delivered to Eastern Airlines in February, 1969. Eastern operated the four-engine jet until 1974, according to McDonnell Douglas spokesman Dave Eastman. At that time, it was transferred to UTA France. It returned to the United States in 1981, when Capitol Airways, which was owned at that time by Batchelor, took over operation of the jet.
Eastman said there may have been one or two other operators of the aircraft between Capitol and Arrow, describing the plane's recent history was somewhat "fuzzy." The craft had logged more than 50,000 hours in the air, he said.
McDonnell Douglas manufactured 556 DC-8 aircraft at its Long Beach plant, and an estimated 400 remain in service.
FAA computer tapes dating from 1980 show that after the plane was returned to U.S. operators in 1981, there were four reports of service difficulties that could have had a potential impact on safety.
The reports included incidents in which a crack in a drinking-water tap caused the cabin to lose pressure at 31,000 feet, requiring oxygen masks to be deployed; a broken bolt was discovered in a landing gear mechanism; a landing-gear door was found damaged, and an engine lost hydraulic fluid after a pressure pump hose failed.
Times staff writers Richard E. Meyer and Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this story.