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Travelers' Aid

Airplane Maintenance
February 19, 2000

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You know, when I'm at the airport, I'm always amazed by the flurry of activity going on around the planes. All those people loading baggage, checking out the plane, making sure everything works right...ever wonder what they're really doing? It's an especially important question in light of the Alaska Airlines crash a few weeks ago -- as you know, the suspected cause is a mechanical problem in that plane's tail fin.

For this week's Traveler's Aid section of the show, I wanted to find out more about airplane maintenance. So I got in touch with Mike Williams. He teaches at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where he trains a lot of the mechanics you see scurrying around the jets. The first thing I wanted to know was...what those guys are doing out there?

Mike Williams trains mechanics at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Now, most of the recent talk about inspections and mechanical safety has focused on our domestic fleet. But what if you travel abroad, on a foreign airline? Can you be sure they've checked out their planes? I put the question to Jim Burin. He's director of technical programs for the Flight Safety Foundation, an organization dedicated to, well, flight safety, here in the U.S. and abroad. I asked him how we can be assured that other countries' Super 80s have been checked.

Now, how does a pilot feel? I mean, they're the one's flying the planes, and ultimately they must feel responsible when something goes wrong. What do they think about all this? I caught up with Russell Lewis. He's a public radio reporter with KPBS in San Diego. And he's also a pilot. I asked him how he knows his plane is ready to go when he is.


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