Spain Warns It Will Have Zero Tolerance for Airline Safety Breaches

Spain's development minister said Wednesday the government would have zero tolerance in future for airlines failing to heed safety regulations, as she defended her handling of the Air Madrid crisis which left thousands of people stranded before Christmas.

The airline suspended operations on December 15, leaving 330,000 passengers stranded in Latin America and Spain. It had its flying license revoked by Spain's Civil Aviation authority a day later.

"We preferred to guarantee passengers' safety and that the company should stop flying before a serious accident happened," Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez told parliament in an address to deny opposition party charges that the government had acted too late.

The two-year-old private carrier, which flies mainly between Spain, Latin America and Romania, had come under considerable criticism in recent months for delays that left hundreds of passengers stranded at airports for days on end.

Authorities acknowledge Air Madrid's Spanish fleet had been under daily scrutiny for over six months due to safety concerns. On Wednesday, Alvarez justified the renewal of the company's license in May, saying "it was done in the hope that the deficiencies found in the inspections would be fixed.

"As this was not done satisfactorily a probe was opened in September which finished Dec. 16 with the suspension of operations," she said.

She said that in future the Socialist government would have "zero tolerance with security problems and would go all out to ensure air safety norms are abided by."

Alvarez said that in 2006 there had been some 7,000 inspections carried out on planes, almost double that of 2003.

Following the suspension, Spain moved to transport the most needy of Air Madrid's passengers, including the old and those with one-way tickets and few economic resources.

Alvarez said that between Dec. 15-21, the government had flown some 5,700 passengers, roughly 20 percent of those affected.

Air Madrid was founded in 2004 and has 1,270 employees.

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