Eastern Air Lines Chairman Frank Borman said yesterday that if the Federal Aviation Administration is going to fine his company for alleged safety violations, it must take Eastern to court first.
Borman's statement signaled the breakdown of negotiations between the FAA and Eastern over $9.5 million in civil penalties that the FAA has proposed. Both parties have characterized the alleged safety violations as largely bookkeeping in nature.
The FAA regards recordkeeping as the backbone of its safety monitoring system. It has said, however, that Eastern is a safe airline, and FAA Administrator Donald D. Engen recently wrote the Air Force that Eastern was safe. At the time, the Air Force was considering a formal policy of avoiding Eastern flights for military personnel as a result of the FAA inspection that led to the proposed civil penalty.
The inspection was part of a stepped-up FAA program that has raised the hackles of many in the airline industry but comes at a time of considerable concern that the FAA had become lax in checking safety practices in the competititve deregulated airline business.
Borman said that most of the FAA allegations "simply cannot be supported following an exhaustive analysis by Eastern which was unequivocally supported by technically qualified and respected industry consultants."
Eastern said in a news release that it would "address any related penalty only when and if the agency elected to pursue the matter in civil court proceedings." FAA spokesman Stephen Hayes said negotiations with Eastern over the proposed civil penalty had been proceeding for weeks and that Engen had been personally involved. "We are preparing correspondence to Eastern Air Lines that will ask them to pay the full amount that we have proposed, $9.5 million, by a certain date," Hayes said. "If they don't pay, we will forward the case to the Justice Department and request that Justice seek the maximum statutory limit."
An air safety violation carries a maximum penalty of $1,000. Each time a plane takes off in violation of a rule, the $1,000 fine can be assessed. During its inspection of Eastern, the FAA said it found 78,372 violations, which could mean a $78.4 million civil penalty. The proposed $9.5 million would be a record aviation safety fine.
Borman said that Eastern expects a judicial review to have a "significant mitigating impact." He said that "the heart of Eastern's excellent safety record . . . has been an unshakable reliance on facts, and it's regrettable that we must turn to the courts to reaffirm the principle."