Sunday, September 23, 2001

Delta tops in FAA fines

Airline paid $4.5M over past decade for infractions

By James Pilcher and John J. Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Delta Air Lines didn't have the most documented breaches of security over the past decade, but the company was fined the most of all the nation's leading carriers.

        An Enquirer analysis of Federal Aviation Administration records of security violations between 1990 and August 2000 shows that American Airlines had the most lapses of any major carrier with 2,108. Two American Airlines planes were hijacked and crashed during the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

        Delta, which operates its second-largest hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, followed American with 1,860 security breaches. But Delta was fined an industry-leading $4.5 million for its infractions. American was fined $4.4 million.

        Atlanta-based Delta's violations were throughout its system. Nearly 36 percent were failures of inspections of security by the FAA or other organizations.

        Delta's largest individual fine was for $90,000, stemming from an incident in Newark in November 1996. Details are incomplete, but citations ranged from improper screening of passengers and bags to improper access of restricted areas. Newark was the departure point for one of the jets involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

        Locally, Delta's largest fine was for $26,500 after FAA inspectors successfully smuggled a hand grenade through screeners in September 1999.

        Delta officials would not discuss the company's security record, saying only that the company takes each violation very seriously and that the company conducts internal security audits and inspections.

        Under FAA regulations, airlines are responsible for providing security at passenger screening checkpoints, and alls carriers contract that service to other firms. Locally, Delta has hired Atlanta-firm Argenbright Security to screen passengers and provide other security and shuttle services.

        “All of the airlines have had their problems, and there's always been the notion that they've been more willing to pay the fines than to fix the problem,” says Richard Golaszewski, partner and security expert for the suburban Philadelphia aviation consulting firm GRA, Inc.

        There were 152 total violations at the Cincinnati airport, which is low compared to other similar facilities. For instance, the airport in Charlotte, N.C., had 367 violations; the airport at Pittsburgh had 347.

        Of the violations here, 44 were the fault of Delta and 12 were the fault of Erlanger-based regional carrier Comair.

        The rest were blamed on other airlines, the local airport and even passengers, although individual names were expunged.

        Says Comair spokeswoman Meghan Glynn: “We take security very seriously and work to diligently correct any infractions.”


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