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FAA Audits Deal New Blow to Airline Industry, Travelers

American Airlines canceled some 900 flights Thursday for a third day of deep-reaching schedule changes due to a new round of tighter FAA safety inspections. An airline safety expert and an FAA representative examine the impact on the airline industry and on passengers.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, a third straight day of major flight cancellations and big headaches at the nation's airports. NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago begins.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Paul Brutout was one of the thousands of unhappy American Airlines passengers this morning. He was back in line at Chicago's O'Hare Airport hoping to get on the flight after yesterday's cancellations.

  • PAUL BRUTOUT, Passenger:

    It messed up my vacation. I'm going to Texas turkey hunting, and I have people waiting down there for me. And when you book in January, you know, you kind of hope that this never happens. And it probably should have never happened to begin with, had they followed all the proper procedures, and I think the American public is paying the price for it.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Yvette Dradner wasn't happy, either.

  • YVETTE DRADNER, Passenger:

    We're going to New York because my daughter-in-law just had a baby. And I said I would be there to help her. We're staying the week, and it was just a hassle.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    More than 150,000 travelers have had their plans disrupted over the last three days as 2,500 flights have been scrubbed.

    Things have calmed down a little bit at Chicago's O'Hare airport today. The long lines have pretty much disappeared. Yesterday, 10,000 people were affected by cancellations, though 123 flights will be cancelled today. But at least most people were notified that their flight would be canceled before they got to the airport.

    The reason for the epic delays: American has grounded its MD-80 jets, the workhorse of its fleet, for safety inspections. Specifically, American mechanics are examining the wiring in the wheel wells of the MD-80 jet.

    The cords holding the wire bundles must be at least one inch apart. And if they aren't, there's a danger of fire or losing auxiliary hydraulic power.

    American was cited for a violation in a recent FAA audit. The same check was done in March, and 500 flights were cancelled.

    American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said the airline thought it had solved the problem then, but the FAA said it had not been fixed properly.

  • MARY FRANCES FAGAN, American Airlines:

    We believed we were in compliance when the FAA inspectors came on board and said, "No, you're not in compliance." We said, "OK, we will become in compliance."

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    This is the latest in a series of problems that have spotlighted oversight issues at the FAA and the airlines. A hearing last week focused on lax safety inspections by Southwest Airlines, with the complicity of some FAA inspectors.

    Earlier this month, United, Delta and Northwest all had to ground parts of their fleets.

    The cancellations have raised safety concerns for many passengers, including nervous flyers like Simon Cooper, the leader of a seven-piece English punk rock band. He was stranded yesterday at O'Hare.

  • SIMON COOPER, Musician:

    I never feel safe flying.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    And what's this done to that feeling?

  • SIMON COOPER:

    It's made it worse, I would say, yes, because now there's a slight suspicion of what is wrong with these planes. And I mean, I'm fairly aware that all the airlines keep what's wrong with their planes quiet.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    American's major hub, Dallas-Fort Worth, has seen the highest number of cancellations and tempers were worn there, too.

  • PASSENGER:

    My Latin temper is about up to my nose by now.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    At Washington's Reagan Airport, Eric Sizemore, a librarian from Champaign, Illinois, was trying to leave. He said there was little information for already-weary travelers.

  • ERIC SIZEMORE, Passenger:

    There's no signs to tell you where to go and what to do, I mean, on the Web, on the phone, even here. The people in line are getting a little heated.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    American hopes that all MD-80 repairs and FAA inspections will be finished in the next four days. And they say, by next week, flight schedules should be back on track.

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