Lahood Raps USA Today's Maintenance Investigation

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Department of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood came out swinging Tuesday against a USA Today report that alleged that 65,000 airline flights over the last six years occurred in aircraft that were not properly maintained. The newspaper said the findings surfaced after a six-month investigation into maintenance practices by the airlines and oversight by the FAA found both lacking. On his blog, Lahood said FAA inspectors are constantly monitoring maintenance and the recent airline safety record is evidence of that. "Contrary to the assertion in USA Today, we are not allowing flights to leave the ground in 'unsafe condition,'" Lahood wrote. He noted the FAA's proposal to fine American Eagle Airlines $2.5 million for faulty weight-and-balance calculations on 154 flights is proof that the FAA is serious about safety.

However, in a follow up to the maintenance story, USA Today suggested the millions of dollars in fines assessed against airlines in the past year is a symptom of the problem and not an indication of a solution. It noted that over the past six years, the airlines have been cited for 1,300 maintenance infractions, most resulting in warning letters rather than fines. Meanwhile American Eagle is crying foul over its proposed fine, saying the discrepancies were found in the backup paper-based weight-and-balance calculation system, rather than the primary electronic system that actually provides the numbers.