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Report: Cargo Plane Safety Lacking

July 9, 2006

MIAMI (AP) _ Crashes of cargo planes are more likely to kill people than crashes involving passenger planes, yet federal regulators have largely ignored pleas to improve their safety, a newspaper’s investigation has found.

Critics say that because often the only deaths in cargo crashes are of the pilot, safety regulators simply don’t pay much attention to the industry, The Miami Herald reported Sunday in an extensive investigation of the business.

``I’m not sure why we need to wait until one crashes in the middle of Disneyland before people are going to take notice of the fact that these planes are going down,″ said Lara Goldman Lennon. Her husband, Thomas, died when he crashed a cargo plane in 2004 near Baltimore.

The newspaper said Sunday it documented several cases of cargo planes flying with questionable maintenance and of pilots being pushed to fly when exhausted and without proper assurance that their planes were safe. It said several cargo plane crashes over the five years it analyzed could be linked directly to a lack of appropriate maintenance or oversight of the pilot’s ability to fly safely.

Air cargo crashes are 50 percent more likely to kill people than crashes of similar planes carrying passengers, although crashes of large passenger planes would have higher death tolls, the newspaper said.

The Herald analyzed National Transportation Safety Board data from 2000 to 2005, internal company memos, and documents from court cases, investigations and inspection files. It also conducted extensive interviews with pilots and others in the industry.

Safety advocates complained that the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to address the industry’s problems.

``The Federal Aviation Administration spent very few resources on cargo oversight,″ said Mary F. Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation. ``It equals a greater risk, and sometimes it means a loss of life.″

The FAA said it has established a new unit to explore safety issues involving cargo and other aircraft besides the big passenger jets.

The FAA also said that its regulations provide a high level of safety, but that ``the primary responsibility for compliance with regulations and safe operations lies with the air carrier.″

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