AFTER A summer of intense public concern about air safety, more reports from the skies are keeping the topic prominent into the fall -- including this week's account of an apparent close call involving a plane carrying former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole; news of a crash of an Italian airliner in the Alps; more details of pilot problems about the Northwest flight that crashed Aug. 16 in the Detroit area area, killing 156 people; and charges by two Eastern Airlines pilots that financially strapped airlines sometimes coerce pilots into flying jetliners that are unsafe. Though these incidents and allegations appear to have no common source of trouble, they contribute to congressional calls for more regulation of airline service and safety. The response from Federal Aviation Administrator T. Allan McArtor includes pledges of improved procedures that Congress should consider before any stampede to elaborate reregulation of the industry.
At a Senate committee hearing Thursday, Mr. McArtor acknowledged a "crisis of public confidence" in air safety, but repeated his opposition to reversing the deregulation of the late 1970s for safety reasons. He said that if he ever believed that increases in air traffic caused by deregulation were creating a "safety risk. I'd take action this afternoon." More reassuring was Mr. McArtor's statement that his agency would not only be hiring more air traffic controllers but also improving their training. This remains to be seen. He also noted that said the FAA is "conducting a top-to-bottom review of pilot training, which -- given various disturbing reports of cockpit problems -- clearly could stand intensive review and adjustments.
Just as the FAA cannot guarantee perfect air safety, Congress cannot prescribe the airtight legislative fix. Just as deregulation is not untouchable, reregulation is not magic. Thoughtful, concerted action to improve facilities, personnel and inspections would do much more to reassure an understandably jittery public.