Federal Aviation Administration chief T. Allan McArtor chastised airline executives yesterday for watching their profit-and-loss statements more closely than safety and service.
"I'm concerned there is too much emphasis on the financial side of the ledger and not enough attention to service, safety and security," McArtor said in a speech to the Aero Club of Washington.
He said the occupants of corporate boardrooms need to show the "same vigilance" about safety that is required of pilots and air traffic controllers.
"I'm not saying that our airline executives are not mindful of their service obligations," McArtor said. "I'm asking them to prove that they are."
At the same time, he announced a new plan to allow airlines to play a larger role in inspections and voluntarily correct maintenance and operations problems without being subject to large penalties. He said the agency is writing a "self-inspection" manual, and added that airline accountability and quality cannot be "inspected in" to an airline operation.
Before McArtor was appointed to the agency, the FAA had aggressively pursued airline maintenance violations with special teams of inspectors and assessed record penalties against several major carriers, including a record $9.5 million fine against Eastern Air Lines.
"I am not looking to levy fines, rather to improve quality," McArtor said.
In an interview, McArtor said the self-inspections would be in addition to FAA inspections.
The new chief, who earlier called for improvements in pilot training, said the FAA is working on new rules for pilot training, the first major update in pilot regulations in 30 years. Last month, McArtor met with chief pilots of the country's major airlines in Kansas City, Mo.
"I am deeply concerned about the rapid rise in the pilot errors this year," he said. "We have also witnessed the kinds of crew errors that often come from cockpit routine -- landing on wrong runways, at wrong airports, dialing wrong navigation way points."
He said he cannot predict the extent of changes to pilot training, only that the rules need to be updated with greater attention paid to "human factors" -- or reduction of human error.
The self-inspections and pilot training were two main components of an ambitious eight-point plan McArtor unveiled yesterday that calls for hiring more air traffic controllers and training them faster, building new airports and accelerating development of new aviation technology.
McArtor said he is concerned about backup controllers and reducing overtime at FAA facilities where controllers work six-day weeks.
He said he will not hesitate to place more restrictions on air space around busy airports if the situation warrants.
Before yesterday's speech, McArtor's plan had already been spotlighted on network television, although it was not exactly the kind of showcase McArtor envisioned. The plan's title, "Impact '88," attracted the attention of talk-show host Johnny Carson, who wondered if the word "impact" was the right choice by the new safety-conscious FAA chief.