VIEWPOINTS : How Can Flight Service and Safety Be Improved? : Industry Observers Explain What They Think Should Be Done to Make Skies Friendlier

November 22, 1987|KEITH BRADSHER | The U.S. Department of Transportation released its first detailed report Nov. 11 on the timeliness and the baggage-handling performance of the nation's 14 largest airlines. That was followed by last Sunday's crash of a Continental Airlines DC-9 at Denver's Stapleton International Airport, killing at least 28. Times staff writer Keith Bradsher interviewed various airline industry observers about how to improve airline service and safety. Excerpts follow: and

John J. Nance, lawyer, airline pilot and author of "Blind Trust: How Deregulation Has Jeopardized Airline Safety."

"After deregulation, basically what we said is, 'We don't really care whether you contribute to the (air transportation) system or not, you've got to promise that you're going to try to make a profit.' And consequently, the bottom line became the god and the idea that there was some sort of an obligation to the public to create a good, stable air transportation system went out the window. It became simply a cash cow and a way to make money.

"Well, fine. It's a way to make money, but it also is a public service and a public utility. And once we recognize that and get back on the track, which is going to take legislative change in Washington, then I think we will be able to have the airlines rise to their natural propensity, which is not only to have the greatest level of service possible, but also the greatest level of safety possible."

Alfred E. Kahn, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977-78, now a professor of political economy at Cornell University.

"We are pricing those scarce spaces at congested airports at times of (peak use) insanely. . . . The landing fee at Washington National Airport, which is among the most precious pieces of ground in the universe, is 57 cents a thousand pounds. That comes to between $2.75 and $6 for landing the small craft that my charter operator lands. And a maximum of $700 or $800 for a 727. That's crazy. No wonder you have a shortage. No wonder planes are lined up and queuing the way they do at a meat shop in Poland.

"They should be charging thousands of dollars for their landing. That would translate into maybe $25 or $50 a ticket. That means that the people to whom it's important to land at that very precious time and space will be able to do so without delays, weather permitting. And if you then use the (money) that you get in that way to subsidize landings off peak or in uncongested airports, that would translate into lower fares and there would be bargains for people who don't find it necessary to use the very scarce times and places."

Charles E. Yeager, retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, author, test pilot and the first person to break the sound barrier.

"My own personal opinion--since I fly military planes back and forth across the country, intermingle with commercial traffic and I also fly private airplanes--I think the FAA is doing a very good job in regulating traffic around the United States. Obviously, they can't stay on top of everything, (but) when a problem surfaces, then they fix it. And that's the way it should be.

"As far as airline service is concerned . . . it's ridiculous. The point is, I think that, due to deregulation, the airlines have grown at a rate where they just don't have good supervision over their people. And consequently, their people couldn't care less about giving good service. And that's about what it amounts to. Eventually they'll get enough supervisors to where they can assure good service, but right now, the passenger is a captive audience. And he really can't do a hell of a lot about it, except write letters and (complain) and just like that, you feel like crawling across the counter and clobbering some guy because of the attitude. . . .

"The airline pilots are all very well-trained and they're very proficient until complacency takes over--as it did, in my opinion, in the Northwest accident back East. See, complacency is where you think you know so much that you

don't use a check list and you get lazy, and the airplanes are so easy to fly today, that, you know, there's a tendency to drift toward complacency in the cockpit. . . . You have to keep pounding (airline safety) into the pilots."

Jane King, deputy director of the National Consumers League in Washington.

"Through the federal courts, some kind of consumer redress (for service problems) should be made possible because right now you might try your local consumer protection office, you might try your (Better Business Bureau), but of course they do not have jurisdiction over these interstate problems. . . . We can take care of

other issues through legislation, but the individual consumer needs to have some access to help.

"One additional concern we have dealt with over a period of the last two or three years is the problem with inspection and maintenance, and there are many signs that that is deteriorating. There are older planes in the air. There are many deferred maintenance practices, which cause grave concern. This could be one area of safety that deserves a much harder look."

Arthur Hailey, author of "Airport," published in 1968, and nine other books.

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