Karen Walker/ATLANTA

VALUJET AIRLINES, in response to criticism from the US Federal Aviation Administration is to cut the number of outside maintenance contractors it uses.

An interim report, by the FAA on ValuJet's maintenance and safety procedures, highlights discovered since the Atlanta, Georgia-based airline came under heightened scrutiny by FAA inspectors earlier this year. Even more inspections followed the 11 May crash of a ValuJet McDonnell Douglas DC-9 into swampland close to Miami, Florida, which killed all 110 people on board.

The FAA interim report leaked, to US newspapers, lists safety violations ranging from out-of-date manuals and improper record keeping to more serious incidents. For example, an inspector reports that, on 23 February, three days after the FAA launched its stepped-up inspection of the airline, he witnessed a Valujet mechanic in Atlanta repairing a DC-9 engine with a hammer and chisel instead of the correct Pratt & Whitney tools. The JT8D engine, apparently damaged during that repair, had to be shut down soon afterwards during the aircraft's flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, Louisiana, but the aircraft arrived at its destination safely.

ValuJet president Lewis Jordan says that he has seen the report and his company will take immediate action on any findings that have not already been addressed. "While the report includes findings that are, at first reading, troubling, it is filled with many items typical of those that would be reported at any established major airline if it were subjected to this extreme level of in-depth inspection," says Jordan.

The airline, which has cut its number of scheduled flights by half since the crash, says that it may contract a major carrier, to carry out heavy maintenance.

In Florida, meanwhile, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed its search of the swampland where Flight 592 went down. Around 75% of the aircraft, has been recovered and some 35 bodies, formally identified.

NTSB officials say that they have not found any evidence of fire in cockpit electrical wiring or circuit breakers, but they have substantial evidence of a severe fire in the forward cargo-area where oxygen-generator canisters were stowed.

Jordan remains adamant that ValuJet will survive this incident. "Valujet has been profitable from day one and has a very strong cash reserve," says Jordan. "There is no question of us shutting down."

Source: Flight International