The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday cited Atlantic Coast Airlines for safety violations in its maintenance and inspection program, just a week before the carrier, now Independence Air, launches its new low-fare service out of Dulles International Airport.
The FAA said that Atlantic Coast Airlines operated "several of its aircraft without performing mandatory inspections of engines, airframes and other components" between May 1999 and February 2004. According to the agency, the airline failed to maintain its aircraft in accordance with its own FAA-approved maintenance program; failed to have a proper inspection program; and failed to keep appropriate maintenance records of its planes.
The airline was assessed a fine of up to $1.5 million. The final amount is subject to negotiation by the FAA and the airline.
Independence Air spokesman Rick DeLisi said the violations were discovered as the carrier upgraded its computer system that tracks maintenance records. "That's when we discovered a couple of things we needed to correct," DeLisi said. "These things have all been fixed -- some for over a year and others for many months."
The FAA has issued similar fines for other carriers. Yesterday, United Airlines received a civil penalty of up to $1 million for allegedly installing emergency escape slides that were inoperable on a Boeing 777 plane that took 263 flights before the problem was discovered. The carrier allegedly forgot to remove safety pins on the slides so that the slides could work in the event of an evacuation.
Last week, American Airlines agreed to pay $2.5 million for allegedly operating aircraft that had various safety violations and Boeing Co. agreed to pay $824,800 for allegedly failing to maintain its quality control system on its 737, 747, 767 and 777 aircraft production line.
The Independence Air announcement comes as the carrier is trying to establish credibility with passengers and reinvent itself as a low-cost operator. Last year, the carrier announced it would end its long-standing relationship with United as the operator of United Express flights out of Dulles and instead shuttle passengers along the East Coast and to the Midwest as an independent airline.
With 87 regional jets and orders for larger Airbus A319 aircraft, Independence Air is scheduled to begin flying June 16 to locations such as Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. The airline recently launched a major "Fly i" advertising campaign to tout its new service as an alternative to the major carriers.
The FAA said it would "closely monitor" the airline's progress. "You've got an airline in transition," spokesman Paul Turk said. "We typically pay a lot of attention in those cases."