WASHINGTON — Two air charter services, including one based in California, regularly carried U.S. troops who were "unaware of the risks" they were taking after the companies were cited for safety violations, a member of the House Armed Services Committee charged Thursday.
Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) released a General Accounting Office report that said Air Resorts of Carlsbad and South Pacific Island Airways of Honolulu repeatedly violated Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines. "These violations went uncorrected long after FAA's initial citations. In the meantime, U.S. troops flew on these carriers unaware of the risks they were taking. This simply must stop," Bennett said.
He called on the military to suspend a $3-million charter contract with Air Resorts.
Air Resorts President Theodore Vallas said in a telephone interview Thursday that the company is "far superior to even the major airlines" in FAA safety compliance and has "outperformed any other charter carrier along the coast."
"We've had many, many inspections, and we came out very, very clean," Vallas said. "Everything that has been in question has been resolved. We would welcome an investigation anytime."
In Los Angeles, FAA spokesman Russ Park said: "We keep an eye on Air Resorts like we keep an eye on everybody else. Air Resorts is currently operating under our requirements and specifications. They are still very much in business."
Air Resorts voluntarily grounded its fleet in May, 1984, after failing 25 out of 26 FAA inspections that found improper maintenance procedures, poor record keeping and inadequate employee training, the GAO report said.
However, the carrier was allowed to resume service under Navy contracts and carried 2,479 military personnel in the next 30 days.
Then, in December, 1984, investigators cited the charter for 11 FAA safety violations.
But an August, 1985, Air Force inspection found the carrier to have "compiled an excellent record of reliability and service."
Air Resorts operates one to three flights a day between Point Mugu Naval Air Station and Catalina Island and between San Diego's North Island Naval Air Station and San Clemente Island. Its fleet of 18 planes includes DC-3s and Convair propjets.
The second carrier cited in the GAO report, South Pacific Island Airways, ferried 6,400 U.S. servicemen and their families between the West Coast and Hawaii, Guam and Samoa during a six-month period in 1984.
In May, the FAA urged that the airline "be immediately suspended in the face of a large list of serious infractions of FAA regulations." The company now operates only two propjets between Samoa and Guam.
In the wake of last year's Arrow Air military charter crash in Gander, Canada, Bennett introduced legislation to require inspection of all military flights within 48 hours before takeoff.
The Gander crash killed 248 U.S. soldiers returning to Ft. Campbell, Ky., from peacekeeping duty in the Middle East.