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Review of USAir Showed Safety, Training Problems : Transportation: More than 40 deficiencies in flight operations, training programs are found. Airline's chief says recent accidents aren't connected.

November 13, 1994| From Associated Press

NEW YORK — USAir has allowed jets to leave gates without enough fuel at least nine times and once used a jet for 13 days despite a dangerous crack on its wing flap, according to a newspaper report.

Despite recent assurances from USAir and federal officials, a two-month review of the nation's sixth-largest airline showed numerous safety and training problems, the New York Times reported today.

In one example, the pilots of a Washington-to-Boston flight did not check to see if the plane had enough fuel. When they were forced to land at La Guardia Airport in New York, they lied and radioed the control tower that they had to land due to engine trouble. After they landed, the captain acknowledged there had been no engine trouble.

Eight other USAir flights have left the gate without the federally required amount of fuel since the airline eliminated two pre-flight refueling checks 16 months ago, records showed. One of the planes returned to the airport and another reached its destination. It was unclear what happened on the other flights.

The newspaper's report was based on interviews of airline employees and safety officials, and thousands of pages of court files and safety reports, many obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The investigation followed the Sept. 8 crash of a USAir Boeing 737 near Pittsburgh International Airport that killed all 132 aboard. In July, a USAir jet crashed in Charlotte, N.C., in a thunderstorm, killing 37 of 57 people aboard.

USAir executives told the newspaper that the accidents are not connected and there is no reason to draw negative conclusions about safety. They also denied that financial troubles had had any effect on safety.

"When it comes to safety, we are well within the mean range, and better than some," Seth E. Schofield, USAir's chairman and chief executive, told the newspaper. "The reality is that if I thought the airline was unsafe, I would ground every plane."

The report also found:

* USAir violated federal regulations by permitting a plane to fly for 13 days without repairs to a dented and cracked wing flap. In another case, a plane was allowed to fly for a day without an operating stall-warning system. After telling the captain it could not be fixed immediately, a mechanic falsified a report to state it was fixed so the flight would not be canceled. The mechanic was suspended for 10 days.

* A team of inspectors with the Federal Aviation Administration last year found more than 40 deficiencies in USAir's flight operations and training programs for its more than 5,000 pilots.

* USAir loses more than $2 million a day and is more than $2 billion in debt, causing some employees to feel pressure to keep planes flying.

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