WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department on Wednesday rejected a request by the Air Line Pilots Assn. for a continuing safety review of Eastern Air Lines on the grounds that the bid was a labor-management ploy.
Transportation Secretary James H. Burnley IV said in a toughly worded order that the only cause for concern about safety was the withdrawal by the ALPA and the International Assn. of Machinists from Eastern air safety committees.
He said "no party to labor-management dispute should use safety issues to attempt to gain leverage on economic issues."
Eastern's unions have accused the airline, a unit of Texas Air Corp., of selling assets, including profitable routes, to support demands for wage concessions.
Burnley said that, "based on our earlier preliminary investigation of Eastern and our review of publicly available current information, we believe that Eastern remains fit to operate."
He said ALPA failed to present any basis for opening a formal investigation into Eastern's continuing fitness.
Texas Air and Eastern, as well as Continental Airlines, another Texas Air subsidiary, were investigated earlier this year and were found to be fit.
The department said another investigation found that while Eastern and Continental had been losing money, each had enough money to operate safely and without undue risk to the public.
All airlines undergo periodic safety checks.
Burnley called the ALPA petition for a safety investigation "a transparent attempt to put pressure on Eastern by raising new safety concerns."
He said the petition "borders on abuse of the department's process, particularly in view of ALPA's and the IAM's 'unclean hands' resulting from their withdrawal from the safety committees."
The committees were formed by Eastern and its unions, under mediation by former Labor Secretary Bill Brock, who was named by Burnley last July 6 to act as a trouble-shooter to try to resolve Eastern labor-management problems.
Burnley said Brock had written to both ALPA and the IAM to ask them to rejoin the Eastern safety committees, and said he fully endorsed the request.