Low-Budget Vista Airlines Under Investigation
by Cal Sindel
November 29, 1999
U.S. regulators said on Monday they would conduct a special inspection of Vista Airlines after a string of recent aircraft quality problems including loose bolts, missing wings, mannequins in place of pilots and electrical components held together with duct tape.
FAA aircraft certification director Bethany Frederickson said none of the problems were out of the ordinary or posed an immediate safety problem, but she did not rule out the possibility of fines for the airline. "I could probably wrangle upwards of five grand under the table to look the other way," she estimated, "that's pretty standard."
"As far as we can tell now," Vista Airlines spokeswoman Pauline Bradley told reporters yesterday, "these issues appear to be isolated pranks perpetrated by local junior high school students. We'll have to see what happens in the course of this investigation."
"And lets also not rule out the Arabs," she added later.
Although low-budget carriers such as Vista receive a broad quality inspection to ensure passenger safety every 22 years, special audits are conducted when specific problems come to the FAA's attention. A missing wing on an aging Vista 737 was reported to the FAA by several upset passengers last January. According to inspectors, the problem still hasn't been fixed.
"We're getting around to it," assured the Vista Airlines Director of Aircraft Maintenance Tom Richardson. "In the mean time, it's perfectly safe to fly with one wing. The pilot just has to tilt the craft a little. Concerns over this issue are completely overblown."
The Vista spokeswoman also said the audit would not be allowed to affect current arrival and departure schedules and that the company would be wholly uncooperative with the FAA.
"We want to make this as slow and painful a process as possible for all involved," she said.
Vista's last special audit was completed in February 1998 over issues including missing landing gear and vagrants found living in the engines. The FAA ruled these only minor quality problems of no safety significance.
Vista earlier this month had to replace over 20 cockpit pilot seats that were stuck in a reclining position and reeked of urine and gasoline. The seats were deamed both a health and fire hazard and were donated to a local women's shelter.
Vista also admitted this month that tail bolts on many of its jetliners may have been inadequately tightened due to a mix-up between an official tool kit and one manufactured for children by Hasbro, though the airline insists the problem has been taken care of. "The blue plastic wrench doesn't tighten as well as the silver metal one," reads the newly updated Vista maintenance manual.
FAA's Frederickson said that in all cases cited so far there was no immediate safety issue, but "we are still doing expensive analysis that could take years," she said.
Vista's Bradley downplayed the issues raised by the FAA and said the current audit would likely only find room for improvement in procedures that were already working well. "The audit will validate the strong parts of our processes," she said, "like our steller cabin service and modestly clean bathrooms."
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