By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Here's what the feds wrote: "Individual oxygen canisters are not identified as HAZMAT in the stores area . . . Personnel at C-point had not received guidance on oxygen canisters . . ."
In Columbus, Ohio, a hub like Phoenix, the FAA inspectors showed up from July 16 to 18 to look at the oxygen-tank dilemma.
". . . None of the Operations personnel were trained in the recognition of, or informed of, the restrictions on the transportation of oxygen generators or able to identify one. This included fully HAZMAT trained individuals located at the America West cargo point."
The feds had already discovered that ValuJet not only hadn't properly identified the volatility of the canisters, it mishandled the tanks when transporting them.
Here again the FAA found that, like ValuJet, America West did not have adequate control of its cargo. Referring specifically to the potential for the mishandling of the explosive canisters, the feds found that America West ships company materials "without any accompanying documentation and therefore no control or knowledge of contents."
No control or knowledge of contents.
The oxygen-canister fiasco was so widespread within America West that the regulators recommended four different steps the airline needed to take: All HAZMAT employees needed "special emphasis information" on the danger of the oxygen tanks; all the manuals needed to be brought up to date; company shipping had to cease being a blind lottery; and, since America West was not in safety compliance itself, the airline needed to find out if its employees shipped tanks through other carriers, unwittingly endangering passengers on other airlines.
"The problems identified here were similar at all three hubs and would have to be considered a system-wide problem," concluded the FAA dryly.
Short of a car bomb, we don't know of any peacetime street sweeper that's as deadly as a plane crash.
To argue that the 110 people killed in Florida, that the shocking FAA audit, that concern for the safety of America West passengers are all part of some ValuJet public relations fallout problem calls the question: Mr. Franke, are you some kind of putz, or what?
No one from America West wished to answer this query, or discuss the FAA report.
Of course, it is nonsense to blame ValuJet for America West's difficulties.
The maintenance problems unmasked by the FAA's investigation were set in motion when Franke fired 500 people, including 396 mechanics, last Christmas.
Plane maintenance was shipped out of state to Tramco, a company in Oregon that has dropped the ball.
With Boeing hiring mechanics, outfits like Tramco that pay about half the industry average are losing qualified workers right and left. Tramco's solution was not reassuring.
According to a school representative, Tramco wanted a graduating class of kids to replace the seasoned mechanics.
"They tried to hire as many people as they could," said Cork Hutson in the Registrar's Office of the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "If we'd had an entire class of people available, they'd have taken them. They are very short-handed."
The reduced staff at America West is overwhelmed, and passengers who assume the remaining managers at the airline can pick up the slack are whistling past the cemetery.
For example, when the FAA talked to an America West manager, here is what transpired: "When asked for the Emergency Manual, the Operations Supervisor provided a book containing only blank forms. . . . He was not aware of the actual Emergency Manual . . . or familiar with its content."
It must be said that no America West flight has ever crashed.
How long will its luck hold under current conditions? And how long can its CEO remain in deep denial