Feds Investigating Safety Allegations at Northwest

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Federal agencies are investigating safety allegations at Northwest Airlines, where union mechanics went on strike two weeks ago.

The allegations were raised by a maintenance inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration who has been reassigned to a desk job.

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., sent a letter Friday to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, seeking assurances that a thorough investigation will be conducted, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the Detroit Free Press reported.

In his letter, Dayton said the flying public needs to know that ''Northwest Airlines is meeting all necessary standards of reliability and safety'' in its maintenance operations.

David Barnes, a spokesman for the inspector general in the U.S. Department of Transportation, said his office is conducting a preliminary investigation. The FAA also is investigating.

The union representing FAA inspectors is pleased the inspector general's office is looking into the situation, said Linda Goodrich, national vice president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists union.

Mark Lund, an FAA avionics inspector assigned to Northwest at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, was shifted to desk duty more than a week ago after Northwest allegedly complained to FAA supervisors that Lund had been acting unprofessionally, Goodrich said. The reassignment is ''until further notice,'' she said.

''He's tough. He's a very tough inspector, meaning he is to the book,'' Goodrich said. She said Lund wrote a safety recommendation to his FAA superiors about his concerns about the situation at Northwest.

Lund declined to comment Friday.

In a statement, Northwest Airlines Corp. said that ''safety is of paramount importance to every employee'' at the airline.

''As is the practice during any work stoppage, NWA is under increased surveillance by the FAA,'' the airline said. ''Regarding Sen. Dayton's letter to the FAA administrator, the findings outlined in the letter are not available to Northwest, so the airline will not comment on them.''

Northwest, which is using licensed replacement mechanics to keep the airline operating during the strike, said its managers ''are in constant contact with FAA officials regarding the safety of our operations.''

Greg Martin, the FAA's chief spokesman, insisted that Northwest planes are safe.

''With respect to our oversight of Northwest since the strike began, the intensity level remains,'' Martin said. ''We continue to watch them very, very closely. If we find something that's wrong, they have to fix it before they fly. Based on our oversight, they are operating to their standards and our regulations, and the aircraft that are flying are airworthy.''

Martin said the FAA has used 50 to 80 inspectors to oversee Northwest's operations in the past few weeks.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press