These are expensive times for startup carriers in the US. The Federal Aviation Administration has added to existing financial concerns, created by the drying up of capital and public mistrust, with proposals that would raise the cost of government scrutiny.

The FAA remains stung by criticism of its airline monitoring procedures and wants to be seen to act decisively. Wholesale changes would have to be passed by Congress so the FAA is focusing on organisational changes to its review procedure.

The latest proposals due to go before FAA administrator David Hinson in late October would see the financial fitness criteria for startups raised by the introduction of an additional fee for safety inspections in the initial phase of operations.

This would incorporate a system of variable user fees, based on the carrier's existing safety record and compliance programmes. One FAA official concedes the drawback of this approach is finding a methodology which does not appear to divide carriers into 'safe and less-safe' but declines to identify how this would be done. However, the official says it is clear startups require more scrutiny and argues it is only logical for the FAA to devote more resources to their safety oversight.

Critics of the FAA's actions believe it is being too harsh on startups, citing mandatory delays in the launch of the new Pan Am, rescheduled for the end of September, when it should be addressing outstanding issues.

Meanwhile, ValuJet has yet to say when it will start its down-sized six aircraft operation; the FAA returned its operating certificate at the end of August.

Doug Cameron

Source: Airline Business