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A new look at safety issues raised by strike

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As transatlantic air service edges back toward normal following the end of a two-day boycott of US flights by Canadian air controllers, the safety questions highlighted by that short-lived protest are receiving renewed attention.

The Canadian controllers had argued that US air space was unsafe under the temporary staffing system set up by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deal with the strike by US controllers. Their action was also widely seen as a show of solidarity with striking American colleagues, at least 10,323 of whom have now been officially fired by the Reagan administration.

A deciding factor in restoring normal service to the crucial Gander, Newfoundland, air control center, was the Canadian government's agreement to set up fact-finding teams to probe the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association's allegations about safety hazards in US air space.

Despite US Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis' repeated assertions that "the airways have never been safer," CATCA has already reported 41 cases of potentially dangerous air incidents in the vicinity of the US-Canadian border following the US controllers strike.

In the US, the FAA is continuing its own investigation of the CATCA claims of air safety problems. FAA spokesman Fred Farrar asserted that "so far we've not been able to establish one of these charges." He adds that a preliminary probe of five "near-misses" documented since the start of the strike show they have been unrelated to the controllers' job action. Moreover, Mr. Farrar told the Monitor that these five near-misses, which took place from Aug. 3 to Aug 11, were in fact fewer than the number that occurred in the same period.

In another safety-related development, the FAA has agreed to continue until Sept. 8 its so-called "50 percent plan," under which 23 of the biggest commercial airports across the US will be permitted to operate flight schedules at levels 50 percent of normal. But by the agency's own admission many airports are widely exceeding this threshold that was designed to ensure maximum safety.

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