...Rich Countries Not Immune

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But over the weekend, a former airline pilot in Europe expressed concern about threats to that first-world safety record. "The commercial pressures on the shoulders of pilots have increased enormously," Filip van Rossum wrote in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. New rules passed in the European Union this year require airlines to compensate passengers for late or cancelled flights, and with profit margins already thin and competition intense, the airlines are fighting to keep airplanes flying. "In a never-ending quest to save money, maintenance is being squeezed to the limit," Robert Alway, a spokesman for the Association of Licensed Aircraft Engineers in the U.K., told ITP. In the U.S., safety practices at Northwest Airlines are under scrutiny after questions were raised by an FAA safety inspector. The inspector says reports of defects have gone up dramatically since replacement workers took over for striking mechanics on Aug. 20. FAA spokesman Greg Martin told Reuters that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has ordered a full inquiry into the allegations, and will also look into counterclaims that the inspector was intimidating replacement workers and was openly critical of management at the airline. "Based on our oversight, [Northwest is] operating to their standards and our regulations, and the aircraft that are flying are airworthy," he said.