Two Eastern Airlines pilots told a Senate hearing yesterday that in the cutthroat world of airline deregulation, financially strapped airlines sometimes coerce pilots into flying jetliners that are unsafe.
Jim Sexton, a 17-year employe of Eastern, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that in the last year a dozen Eastern pilots have been suspended by the airline for refusing to fly aircraft they consider unsafe, and his own name has been "red-flagged" by Eastern's chief pilot for causing flight delays last month by refusing to fly a plane that needed a new hydraulic pump and several other parts.
Eastern dismissed the charges as part of an elaborate antimanagement campaign conducted by the pilots' union and said the airline will spend $500 million on maintenance this year.
"Eastern Airlines will never direct any pilot to fly a plane he believes is unsafe," said Stephen J. Kolski, an Eastern vice president.
"The Airline Pilots Association has been using safety scare tactics for years," he said.
The pilots testified in the first of three Senate hearings to consider reregulation of the airline industry, which Congress deregulated in 1978.
Congress is considering legislation that would require airlines to publish service and delay statistics. The legislation would require the government to hire 1,000 additional air traffic controllers and support personnel.
"If deregulation has worked, it would have worked by now," said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Commerce Committee. "Clearly, it has not. . . ."
Pilot Donald McClure said when debt-ridden airlines attempt to compete with healthy ones they take actions that can lead to problems.
"They reduce spare parts inventories to bare bones, they schedule aircraft so tightly that there is no time for proper maintenance," McClure said.