WASHINGTON — Federal inspectors are riding on virtually all of Arrow Air's flights during the next three weeks to make sure that cockpit crews, flight attendants and maintenance procedures are meeting government standards, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said Wednesday.
The airborne inspection, rare but not unprecedented, was ordered after a chartered Arrow DC-8 crashed Dec. 12 in Newfoundland, killing 248 U.S. soldiers and eight crew members.
FAA spokesman John Leyden said the special investigation resulted not only from the crash, but also from "questions about safe operations" by the Miami-based airline that have been raised since the tragedy.
"We want to assure ourselves and the public" that Arrow Air is meeting federal safety standards in all areas of its operations, Leyden said, disclosing what he called "a special look at the Arrow operation."
The spokesman said that the FAA inspectors, who are pilots, will ride in cockpits and monitor crew performance, check maintenance logs for each airplane and "observe the overall operations." Such inspections have been conducted "in special situations with other carriers, but it's not a common thing," he said.
The on-board inspections represent perhaps the most dramatic element of the FAA's increased surveillance of the airline's operations. But the agency is also stepping up its inspections of other airlines and has begun a massive effort to investigate over the next year the maintenance procedures of every major U.S. air carrier.
Leyden said that the inspectors, who began flying on Arrow trips Tuesday, would accompany flight crews on about 33 trips by Jan. 6. He said the presence of the inspectors in the airline's cockpits may encourage crews to operate more carefully than on other flights, but that the agency believes such monitoring provides a useful means of evaluating an airline's performance.
In a related matter, The Times learned Wednesday that a malfunctioning starter on the ill-fated Arrow DC-8 delayed by 13 hours the jet's Dec. 10 flight to Cairo, where it picked up the 248 Army passengers who later died in the Newfoundland crash.
The DC-8 had flown to the Oakland, Calif., airport Dec. 7 for routine servicing at a jet maintenance center run by World Airways, another airline that does charter business. The plane had been scheduled to leave Oakland on Dec. 9, but was delayed by the failure of an air-powered starter motor on the No. 1, or outboard port-side, engine, according to Michael Henderson, a spokesman for World Airways.
Missed Takeoff Deadline
The lengthy task of replacing the starter caused Arrow to a miss a 10 p.m. takeoff deadline for DC-8s not equipped with noise-reduction devices and delayed the jet's departure until 7 a.m. Dec. 10. The plane first flew to Seattle, then on to Cairo.
Aviation experts compared the DC-8 starter to the generator on an automobile and said its replacement was probably a routine procedure unrelated to the later crash. Henderson said the DC-8 "was in here for what could only be described as routine maintenance" before the starter problem cropped up.
According to World Airways' work order on the DC-8, leaky potable-water lines were the major servicing problem. Crews also replaced the No. 5 landing tire, fixed a rotating light beacon atop the fuselage, "deep cleaned" the cabin and straightened a "bent hydraulic handle."
Henderson gave no indication that workers detected any other faults with the craft but said they generally do not look beyond the items on the work order.
Flies to Puerto Rico
Arrow Air flies a large number of charter flights and has been assigned $13.8 million worth of business by the Military Airlift Command in the current fiscal year. Pentagon officials have said they have found no reason to stop using Arrow, which also flies a number of scheduled passenger routes between several East Coast cities and Puerto Rico.
In the days since the crash in Newfoundland, reports have surfaced that have raised questions about the airline's operations.
Mechanics who have said they have worked on Arrow airplanes reported finding such potential safety faults as a loose wheel and engine malfunctions. And shortly before the crash, the same airplane aborted a takeoff when its tail hit a runway. The airline maintains that it has not flown unsafe airplanes.
Investigators in Canada have reported finding a detached thrust reverser from an engine, providing a possible clue to the crash. The reverser is a deceleration device that helps slow the plane on landing. However, no cause for the crash has been determined.
The fully loaded DC-8 crashed shortly after takeoff from a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland. It was carrying soldiers returning to Ft. Campbell, Ky., after a six-month tour attached to an 11-nation peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula.
James Gerstenzang reported from Washington and Mark A. Stein from San Francisco.