De-icing meltdown needs fast resolution

Travelers who departed from snowy Denver International Airport on Wednesday might have wondered if they made the right choice. Recent reports from CBS4 News reporter Brian Maas about a de-icing contractor at DIA could give passengers chills that have nothing to do with the temperature.

An investigation led by Maas found that Servisair, the company that handles de-icing duties for every DIA carrier other than United Airlines, has been cutting corners as it trains personnel. These shortcuts may have saved the company a few bucks, but they could have easily placed passengers in harm's way.

Proper training and follow-up of employees are essential to the safety of passengers and those who work at the airport. Inadequate de-icing contributed to the fatal crash of Continental Airlines Flight 1713 20 years ago; 28 people died in that catastrophe, which took place at Denver's Stapleton International Airport.

There was also a near-miss in early February when an inbound United airliner narrowly avoided a DIA snowplow which had inexplicably driven onto an active runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating whether the training lapses were more widespread, and if higher-ups at Servisair were involved. If so, the company and responsible individuals should face tough sanctions from safety regulators.

Maas sent a producer undercover to attend training sessions. The producer's hidden camera showed a Servisair employee feeding job candidates answers to the certification tests so that everyone would pass.

Even worse, a Servisair trainer was not requiring candidates to complete the two hours of driver training that's required before they can receive badges that afford employees access to runways, gates and other areas of DIA that are off-limits to the general public.

The producer was briefly driven around the airport in a van and then issued a security badge without spending any time behind the wheel.

Why would the company cut corners? Servisair officials based at DIA claim ignorance of these actions. And perhaps a rogue employee was simply too lazy to require applicants to spend the time needed to teach the materials and complete driving tests.

Finding out whether supervisors knew about the shortcuts should be one the FAA's top priorities. It does appear that the violations captured by Maas and his team may be more than a one-time occurrence. A Servisair worker who had earlier been through the classes told Maas that his "training" was just as lax as the episodes caught by the producer's hidden camera.

Meantime, Servisair has fired the employee who issued those tests and agreed to an order from DIA officials to retrain all its personnel.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to help the FAA expedite its investigation. Good. We'll surely get more snow this winter. Safety officials need to quickly learn who in Servisair knew what about the training shortcuts, and hold all who were culpable for the dangers they posed to the traveling public.