The Federal Aviation Administration announced last night that it has proposed a "substantial civil penalty" against Eastern Airlines for "alleged maintenance-related violations" of federal regulations.
The FAA said the alleged violations include failure to comply with federal directives requiring mandatory inspections or repairs and failure to comply with maintenance procedures prescribed in manufacturers' manuals.
The agency is proposing $9.5 million in fines for 78,000 individual rules violations, according to a report in today's New York Times.
An FAA spokesman declined to confirm the size of the fine as reported by The Times. The Associated Press reported that the agency was still negotiating with the airline.
According to the FAA, the allegations of violations resulted from a special inspection and evaluation of Eastern conducted from Dec. 3 through Feb. 20.
An FAA official said the inspection stemmed from concern about reports that Eastern, the nation's third largest airline, was deferring maintenance on too many planes.
FAA officials said they could not provide details on the allegations or the proposed penalty until Eastern has been given an opportunity to comment, as required by law.
An Eastern spokesman said last night that "at this point it's not clear what we're dealing with or why."
In a statement, the FAA said agency officials had met with Eastern executives yesterday to discuss a plan that would lead to the airline's "full compliance" with regulations.
The Eastern spokesman said the airline is eager to deal openly with any "safety concerns of substance" that might be raised. The spokesman said, however, that the FAA has not provided enough documentation to enable the airline to respond effectively.
Last year American Airlines paid a $1.5 million civil penalty to settle issues resulting from an FAA inspection, though it denied any violations. Meanwhile yesterday, a former FAA official told a Senate panel the agency had ignored violations at Continental Airlines during a safety probe and had altered a report critical of the carrier, United Press International reported.
Harry Langdon, an inspector with the FAA's San Francisco office who quit last year, told a Senate aviation subcommittee hearing that a 1984 investigation disclosed serious shortcomings at Continental.
"Several discrepancies became evident fairly early in the inspection," he said. "The most flagrant discrepancy was the use by Continental of many check pilots [those who supervise other pilots] who had not had the required FAA training or, more importantly, had not gone through the proper FAA authorization procedures."
Langdon told the panel that the rapid appointment of new captains at Continental following a strike by its pilot union became a major concern to federal investigators.
Langdon said he had written a lengthy report on Continental, outlining his findings and recommendations, which he said were later "severely watered down." As a result of a subsequent probe, the FAA proposed a $300,000 fine against Continental, which the carrier is protesting. An airline spokesman said there were some factual discrepancies in the report, but they have been corrected.