A Virginia State Corporation Commission inspector found 18 violations of state safety and administrative requirements during a spot check of buses and vans that serve passengers using National and Dulles International airports, according to his written report.

The two buses and two vans inspected are operated by The Airport Connection Inc., one of five companies providing the airport service under the Washington Flyer name. The Airport Connection provides bus, van and limousine service; the other companies provide Washington Flyer taxi service.

The state inspector, T.N. Jones, found, among other things, that one van had a "broken left rear shock that was visible dragging the road and a bald/smooth right rear tire." Both are violations of the state motor vehicle code, according to state officials.

Other safety or administrative violations were found on all vehicles inspected, according to the report. "Further checks of this carrier's equipment are needed," Jones wrote in the report.

The inspector's findings "cause concern, but are not such major violations that we should" withdraw The Airport Connection's authority to provide the bus and van service, said commission spokesman Ken Schrad.

"We really do believe the vehicles are safe or we wouldn't allow them on the road," said Mordecai Buckingham, director of airport operations for The Airport Connection.

Buckingham said he had not heard of the inspector's report until he was contacted by a reporter Friday. "If there were a major safety problem, they {the commission officials} would notify us immediately."

In a separate incident, a Washington Flyer bus caught fire Thursday, apparently because of a wiring problem, as it was entering the Dulles Access Road from I-66, an airport official said. The driver and two passengers on board were not injured, he said.

The Airport Connection, based at National, and its parent company, Airport Baggage Carriers Inc., which provides bus service to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, filed last month for protection from their creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. Chapter 11 protection allows a company to continue operating while developing a plan to pay its debts.

The two companies together carry about 900,000 passengers a year to the three airports, Buckingham said. In Virginia, state safety inspections of the vehicles are required annually.

An airports authority contracts officer asked the commission to inspect The Airport Connection buses and vans because he thought the company "was low on operating funds and that maintenance could be lacking," Jones wrote in the report.

The inspector's report listed other violations, including a broken tail light lens on one van and missing registration cards for two vans and one bus.

Violations of the commission's rules included the lack of first aid kits on all four vehicles, the lack of fire extinguishers on three vehicles, an empty fire extinguisher on one bus, drivers without medical certificates operating two vehicles, and the lack of the commission's operating permits on the two vans, the report said.

The commission has not decided whether to seek disciplinary action against The Airport Connection, Schrad said. Each violation could result in a fine as much as $1,000, Schrad said.

The Airport Connection has $250,000 worth of spare parts on hand and runs all buses and vans through a service check every 18 to 21 days, Buckingham said. All drivers are required to walk around the vehicles to look for problems before operation, and can refuse to operate a bus or van if they consider it unsafe, he said.

Some newly hired drivers lack medical certificates and operating permits are occasionally lost, Buckingham said. Buses and vans usually carry first aid kits and fire extinguishers, he said, but "they are removed regularly by unknown people." The equipment is replaced when the vehicles are serviced, he said.

A broken tail light should have been replaced immediately, but a cracked lens might have been left to be replaced during regular servicing, he said.

The van with the dragging shock and the bald tire should have been pulled from service, he said. "We do not run things like that on the road," Buckingham said.

The airports authority asked for the commission checks because the company's "financial situation was tenuous, and we thought a couple extra pair of eyes would help us keep tabs," said Richard Griesbach, the agency's business manager.

The findings of the commission inspector point out paperwork to be done and some mechanical "aberrations," but do not indicate a dangerous situation, Griesbach said.

Officials at BWI have observed no maintenance or safety problems with the buses and vans used by Airport Baggage Carriers to serve the airport, said Leonard Wood, associate administrator of the Maryland state aviation administration, which operates BWI.