THE FALL-OUT from the 11 May crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades has spread across the USA, from Long Beach, California, to the inner circle of the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The unprecedented commercial-airline safety probe and subsequent grounding of ValuJet's fleet will lead to intensified oversight of independent aircraft-maintenance contractors. It has also resulted in the forced retirement of the aviation agency's enforcement chief, and calls for a safety-only mission for the FAA. Meanwhile, McDonnell Douglas (MDC) - faced with loss of its MD-95 launch customer - has stepped up the search for more customers.

ValuJet was forced by the FAA to cease operations after "serious deficiencies" were found in its aircraft-maintenance operations. 51 MDC DC-9s are parked and 4,000 workers have been stood down. The airline has vowed to resume a limited service in 30 days, with between ten and 15 aircraft being operated on up to eight flights a day to about ten cities. ValuJet had previously served 31 cities.

A consent agreement requires ValuJet to revise operating manuals and develop a training curriculum which covers maintenance, inspections and hazardous-material handling. ValuJet has agreed to pay the FAA $2 million to cover the cost of the safety probe, and the FAA is toughening its oversight of airlines which rely on contract maintenance and training.

Tony Broderick, the FAA's associate administrator for regulation and certification, is taking an early retirement after a distinguished 20-year FAA career. In a letter to FAA Administrator David Hinson, Broderick says: "Events...mandate that you make major, visible changes to improve the public confidence...My leaving will provide you with the maximum amount of flexibility to make those changes."

Hinson lauds Broderick's significant accomplishments while at the FAA, and he expects Broderick to make "additional major contributions in the private sector". Some lawmakers say that Broderick has been sacrificed by the Clinton Administration. Industry officials are saddened by the circumstances surrounding his retirement, and his departure is considered a huge loss.

Transportation Secretary Federico Pena has urged the US Congress to rewrite the FAA's mandate which now requires it to promote aviation while regulating its safety. With a safety-only mission, "-there should never be another question about the FAA's top priority," says Pena.

MDC took a risk in launching the MD-95 programme solely on the back of 50 orders and 50 options from ValuJet. Lewis Jordan, ValuJet's president, says that he will talk to MDC about a revised payment schedule "-if it turns out that making payments produce an undue or inappropriate drain on our cash".

Source: Flight International