INhis recent column ("The Unsafe Skies," op-ed, Sept. 3) Carl Rowan expressed understandable concern about aviation safety today. But many of his specific statements were so inaccurate and unfounded that some clarification is in order.
There have been a number of unfortunate and unrelated international aviation disasters this year. Because no common set of causes has been established, corrective action taken in one case will probably have little bearing on other cases.
Nevertheless, aviation safety demands continuing attention to even the smallest details. It seems that some vital details have difficulty fitting into Carl Rowan's vision of the world.
Rowan claims that because of airline deregulation and reduced fares, airlines may have cut safety expenses to make financial ends meet.
The possibility of this occurring is something the Federal Aviation Administration has followed very closely since deregulation. And for that reason, we inspect airlines having financial or managerial difficulties with particular vigor, and have an ongoing program to help identify these airlines at an early stage.
During the past year, for example, FAA safety-related inspections have resulted in the suspension or revocation of the operating certificates of 17 airlines. I will not hesitate to ground an airline if its safety performance does not meet our standards.
By every measure, aviation safety has improved in the years since deregulation. Comparing the five-year periods before and after deregulation, the total flight hours increased by 15 percent after deregulation, to over 55 million, while the total accident rate declined by 18 percent, and the fatality rate declined by 34 percent.
Rowan alleges that "a lot of controllers are overworked, some are incompetent and some are drinking and using drugs on the job. . . . " He provides no evidence to support these charges.
The FAA is vigilant about these serious problems. We are implementing the best available rehabilitation programs where appropriate, and we have strong disciplinary programs wherever we confront such problems. Our penalties affecting safety-related positions are more stringent than those affecting other groups of employees.
We will work with our people, but we will not knowingly allow any impaired performance to endanger the flying public.
Rowan notes that some air traffic controllers are "management people who went into airport towers during the air traffic controllers strike of 1981." The implication is that these managers aren't qualified to direct air traffic. On the contrary, they were seasoned air traffic controllers who rose through the ranks; in fact, they are among the most qualified controllers in the world.
Rowan concluded that "we must demand that our government act, setting a safety standard for the world." The plain fact is that the United States does set the aviation safety standard for the world. Air transportation has become so safe, thanks in great part to the leadership of our nation, that we are shocked any time an aviation accident occurs.