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Transport Agreement to Help Boost Air Travel Safety

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 1999 – An Aug. 5 agreement signed by DoD and Air Transportation Association officials is "a huge step forward" in improving air travel safety for military and civilian personnel.

That's the assessment of Mary Lou McHugh, assistant deputy under secretary of defense for transportation policy. The agreement commits six U.S. airlines represented by the ATA to assess the safety of all current and proposed foreign carriers participating in what is known as "code-sharing."

Although not well known by the average traveler, code-sharing is a term that describes partnerships between U.S. and foreign air carriers. Under such partnerships, carriers exchange seats on each others aircrafts and then sell them to passengers as if the flights were their own.

For example, let's say you are traveling from Chicago to Germany with a connection in New York. When you get to New York on the U.S. carrier, it's possible you'd connect with one of that airline's code-sharing foreign partners -- even though your ticket has only the U.S. carrier's name and flight numbers.

The growing number of these code-sharing partnerships -- up from 61 in 1994 to 163 now -- and uncertainty that the safety of the foreign carrier was comparable to that of the U.S. carrier that sold the ticket, were just two of the reasons DoD sought the agreement, McHugh said.

"We were concerned because when you buy a ticket on a U.S. airline you're pretty confident of safety based on U.S. standards," she said. "But if you transfer flights and find yourself on a foreign carrier you know nothing about, you're not quite sure what the standards are. Our goal is to make sure agreed-upon standards are being met by all code-sharing partnerships."

Additionally, she said, DoD has a legal responsibility to evaluate carriers.

"Whether it's a chartered flight or scheduled, we have an obligation to do as much as we can to ensure we put our passengers on safe carriers," McHugh said. "It's one thing when you have a choice of carriers to take, like the general public, but in DoD we tell our people when and where to travel and which carrier they will take."

Approximately 200,000 DoD personnel travel on foreign carriers each year.

Six major U.S. airlines are participating in the agreement -- American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, TWA and United. Under the agreement, McHugh said, during the next year the airlines will certify their foreign partners have sound safety processes and procedures.

The assessments will be based on standards accepted by DoD and the International Civil Aviation Organization. DoD will then review the U.S. carriers' assessments and evaluate the processes they used. U.S. carriers that find safety problems will be expected to work with their foreign partners to correct them. If problems cannot be resolved, DoD will consider barring the code- sharing carrier from official travel.

"Not only will we be able to look at the results of the assessments, we'll be able to go out and talk to the people who actually did the assessments and inspections," McHugh said. "This increases the communication between DoD and U.S. carriers in a very positive way. And the more eyes and ears you have on safety, the better it serves travelers."

The initial assessments are due by Aug. 4, 2000, and follow-up assessments are to be performed every two years thereafter.

The agreement was sought mainly in the interest of DoD personnel, but everybody benefits, McHugh said.

"I think this is going to raise the safety bar across the board because all the airlines have economic interests in making sure this works," she said. "In the end, all of the traveling public will benefit by being reassured safety concerns are being addressed, regardless of whether it's a foreign or domestic airline."

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