European airlines and aviation authorities agreed today on a maintenance and inspection program that could put DC10s back in the air almost immediately for non-US. flights.
In a communique issued after their six-hour meeting, representatives of the 13 European airlines that fly the aircraft said that the inspection program would provide "an acceptable technical base" for decisions to restore the airworthiness certificates of the European-registered DC10s.
They emphasized, however, that decisions to restore the planed to air service will have to be taken individually by each country's civil aviation authority.
The prospective European action will not affect travel to and from the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered that no DC10s be permitted to use American airports until it issues a guarantee of the plane's airworthiness, suspended in the investigations following the recent Chicago crash that left 273 dead. But overflights will be permitted, according to FAA Deputy Administrator Quentin Taylor, who attended today's meeting.
Taylor said that the FAA'a position on use of the DC10s in the United was "unchanged" by the decisions made here today.
Most of the European airlines already have nearly completed the proposed inspections, but representative at today's meeting declined to predict when the planes would actually be cleared for flying, calling the final decision a "political one."
"We have an agreement on what is to be done on the technical side," said a delegate from the Netherlands. "We are not making the final decisions. We will advise our political people that based on technical considerations there is no reason to continue the grounding.
"The final decision whether or not they can fly will be taken by the national authorities."
Several representatives here expressed a reluctance to go it alone. "We've got to be all together," declared the Italian representative.
The program approved here calls for more frequent and detailed inspections of the pylons and wing area, as well as special inspections whenever a DC10 goes through severe turbulence or abnormally bad weather. The program was said to go beyond the requirements of service bulletins issued by McDonnell Douglas Corp. over the last few weeks in the aftermath of the May 25 crash of the American Airlines DC10.
The representative agreed to reconvene immediately if any of the inspections turn up cracks in vital components.
Action by the European government officials will come in the form of reissuance of the airworthiness certificates that were suspended by the Europeans following the grounds by the FAA European aviation officials traditionally have looked to the FAA for leadership in setting technical and safety standards, so their proposed restoration of the plane to the air without waiting for American action would be a significant departure.
Officials of bothe Swissair and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said their DC10s could fly as early as tomorrow if individual government agree.
Almost half of Europe's long-distance capacity was affected by the groundings. Nearly 60 of the big planes are normally operated by European airlines.
Europeans have complained that the DC10 series 30 and 40, which most of them fly, is different from the DC10 series 10 planes in which wing cracks were found in the United States. But the FAA's Taylor called the differences "minor." The Design concept is fundamentally the same, he said.