THE CRASH of a ValuJet McDonnell Douglas DC-9 in Florida in May is turning out to have an impact far beyond the regrettable loss of 110 lives and an aircraft. That is not because the crash itself was extraordinary (although the coincidence of circumstances which add up to the likely cause was certainly unusual), but because of its effect on the way in which aviation in the USA will be regulated in the future. In the aftermath of the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration is having to come to terms with the new ways in which new airlines operate, and carry out their training and maintenance. That, in turn, has claimed one significant casualty so far, and more must, inevitably follow.

As a result of the FAA's increased interest in it, ValuJet has been "asked" to cease operations until it can shown that it has corrected the deficiencies which FAA inspectors have uncovered.

As a result of the increased interest in ValuJet, the FAA's associate administrator for regulation and certification, Tony Broderick, has "elected" to retire. His boss, FAA administrator David Hinson has said that: "The FAA is seeing firsthand that the complexity of oversight for contract maintenance and training calls for this agency to change the way it operates", and that the changes made so far are "just the beginning".

As an end result of these actions, ValuJet may or may not resume operations, and the FAA will get a new associate administrator for regulation and certification. The ultimate fate of ValuJet, as it has been for so many start-up airlines over the years, will depend on whether or not the airline has the underlying structural and management strengths to support the success it had achieved in marketing terms, and to meet the challenges thrown up by the FAA review, or can attract the public back to fly with it.

The ultimate fate of the associate administrator is altogether a different matter. The FAA has two primary (and largely incompatible) duties - to promote the cause of aviation in the USA, and to regulate aviation in the USA.

Promoting the cause of aviation means that the FAA must support the expansion of low-cost carriers and their non-traditional approaches to air transport which were made possible by deregulation. Regulating aviation means that, at the same time, the FAA should be applying its traditional values of control and safety to those self-same airlines. That is an almost impossible task for one agency. That is why the US Congress is pro-posing the splitting of the FAA into different agencies with non-conflicting priorities.

It seems that the FAA has, by its own inference, been rather better recently at pro- moting the cause of aviation than at promoting the cause of regulation. That was probably inevitable - the balance has swung backwards and forwards over the years, and the ValuJet crash occurred when (and, perhaps, because) the imbalance was in the promotion direction.

Regrettably, the FAA, and therefore the industry, loses the services of Tony Broderick because, for once, his was the area on the light side of the balance. There can have been few regulators - as distinct from their politically appointed masters - of any nation who have had so much influence on the international civil-aviation industry. That contribution has been recognised by many organisations around the world - and not least by the International Aerospace Industry Awards programme administered by this magazine, which acknowledged him as Aerospace Personality of the Year in 1995. FAA administrator David Hinson faces no easy task in choosing a successor who can live with the FAA's split role.

That successor will inherit the task of implementing new levels of inspection and control of airlines and maintenance organisations which do not fit into the traditional airline mould. He or she, in imposing that supervision, will (hopefully) ensure that the ValuJet crash can never be replicated. That inevitably means that Hinson's pledge on changing the way in which the FAA operates comes true. Whether it changes the politicians' enthusiasm for promoting change in the aviation industry, and for baying for blood when the inevitable consequences of that change occur, is another matter.

Source: Flight International