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Pilots Flew Jetliner Despite Wing Damage, FAA Charges

February 1, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government has begun actions against two People Express pilots and a flight engineer, charging they flew a Boeing 727 full of passengers, and began taxiing for a second flight, although part of the plane’s wing flaps had broken off.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it wanted the three employees’ air transport licenses revoked because they had flown an unairworthy plane last July 26 on a flight between Newark, N.J., and Buffalo, N.Y.

A spokesman for People Express said the three are still flying regularly for the airline and plan to contest the allegations. He referred further questions to a lawyer for the three employees, but attempts to reach the attorney were unsuccessful.

″These are allegations on the part of the FAA ... There’s nothing proven yet,″ said Russell Marchetta, the airline spokesman.

Air safety experts say that a broken or failing wing flap during some stages of flight could cause an aircraft to be difficult to control, even cause it to roll if one flap is out of balance with the flaps on the opposite wing.

The flaps control the climb and descent of an aircraft because they give a plane more, or less, lift depending on how far they are extended from the wing.

FAA spokesman Edmund Pinto said the Boeing 727 - identified by other sources as People Express Flight 881 on July 26, 1984 - encountered vibrations that severely shook the plane for several minutes after it took off from Newark International Airport on a flight to Buffalo.

″The flight crew ignored the vibrations″ and continued to its scheduled destination, encountering the same vibration when landing at Buffalo, Pinto said.

He continued that ″the crew allowed passengers to board the airplane at Buffalo and commenced taxiing for departure. The flight was halted when it was discovered that two portions of the left wing flap were missing.″

It was unclear when the two missing sections of the flap broke away or how the damage was discovered.

Presumably, one section broke away shortly after takeoff since the FAA said the plane encountered severe vibrations for several minutes as the plane lifted off from the Newark airport, safety experts suggested.

But an industry source, knowledgeable about the incident, said that a one- by-nine-foot section of the flap was found near the Buffalo airport, having fallen off as the plane was making its approach.

This source said the Boeing 727 was taxiing for takeoff on another flight when the crew was advised by the control tower at Buffalo to halt its takeoff because of a report that people near the airport had reported seeing something fall off a plane that had recently landed.

When the People Express aircraft was checked, the pilot noticed the missing section of flap and returned to the gate, the source said, speaking on condition that he not be identified.

Another source, who also demanded anonymity, said that a mechanic noticed part of the wing flap missing as the plane taxied away from the gate and told someone who was in radio contact with the pilot.

In another enforcement action, the FAA said it had collected a civil penalty of $30,000 from Pan American World Airways because the airline carried too many passengers on a charter flight from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to New York a year ago.

The agency said the Pan Am charter flight carried 347 passengers, 10 more than authorized, and that some passengers ″had to share seats and seatbelts in violation of FAA regulations.″