The Federal Aviation Administration found numerous and recurring safety problems in Arrow Air jetliners months before a company plane crashed last December in Canada, killing 248 U.S. soldiers and eight crew members, an FAA official told a House subcommittee yesterday.
But the FAA failed to report its findings to a Pentagon agency chartering Arrow Air planes to transport U.S. troops, said Anthony J. Broderick, FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety standards.
Broderick acknowledged that FAA officials responsible for monitoring safety standards of the commercial planes chartered by the Military Airlift Command failed to correctly interpret a 1976 regulation requiring them to notify MAC "whenever a potential problem is discovered, particularly involving safety." FAA officials mistakenly thought they were obligated only to report an airliner if its certification was suspended or revoked, said Broderick. "It's clear to me we haven't understood this regulation as people thought we should have."
Broderick's testimony came during the first day of hearings by the House Armed Services Committee's subcommitee on investigations prompted by the Dec. 12 crash in Gander, Newfoundland, of an Arrow Air DC8 jetliner carrying troops home for the holiday from peace keeping chores in Egypt to Fort Campell, Ky.
The Pentagon, which last week signed a new $7.6 million contract with Arrow Air, will present witnesses when the hearing continues today.
Broderick, under intense questioning, ackowledged that the FAA received a report in March, 1984, from Arrow Air pilot Michael Sanjenis complaining that the Miami-based company required excessive hours from its flight crews and failed to repair aircraft problems "for prolonged periods."
An FAA inspector in Boston found 10 problems in Sanjenis' plane requiring immediate repair, including an altitude alert light. The inspector was asked by the pilot to "please, please hone in on Arrow to stop current company maintenance practices before an accident occurs," according to the inspector's report released by the subcommittee.
Broderick said that despite these past problems there is no evidence yet from Canadian investigators that the December crash resulted from safety deficiencies in the Arrow Air jetliner. Broderick said the FAA prodded Arrow Air to reform its operations after the 1984 complaint, but did not report the safety problems to MAC because the issue had been resolved short of revoking or suspending the airline's certification. Nor did the FAA notify MAC of two other incidents within six months of the Gander crash involving the same Arrow Air plane in which the 248 soliders and eight crew members were killed, according to subcommittee chairman, Rep. William Nichols (D-Ala.).