Federal authorities announced Friday they had made “extensive” preparations to ensure that air safety standards are upheld and to prevent violence or sabotage at airports in connection with the Eastern Airlines strike.
Immediately after President Bush announced that he would not intervene to head off the strike that started as scheduled at 9 p.m. PST, the Federal Aviation Administration said it had set up a central command post in Miami, where Eastern is headquartered, to monitor the airline’s operations and all its maintenance facilities.
The agency said it would screen mechanics hired to replace striking Eastern workers to make sure they met government standards.
Federal surveillance and aircraft inspections also were stepped up at all of Eastern’s 11 hub cities and foreign operations and all 2,100 FAA aircraft inspectors were placed on alert to be dispatched to any Eastern facility “as needed,” the agency said in a statement.
The FAA will “make sure that every plane Eastern puts into the air during this strike is airworthy and safe,” said Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner. “If the FAA finds a plane that does not conform with standards, it will be shut down,” he said.
He added: “We will not tolerate any threats of sabotage . . . on the ground or in the air.”
FAA Associate Administrator Anthony J. Broderick said the agency has ordered tighter security at airports serving Eastern, its sister airline Continental and other airlines whose mechanics are represented by the International Assn. of Machinists, the union striking Eastern.
Airport security officers were put on special alert, and instructed to notify local police immediately if there is any violence on picket lines or threat of vandalism or sabotage to equipment, he said.
It was not immediately clear how serious the prospect of sabotage was. Skinner said there had not yet been any firm threats, but added that “it is clear . . . from the activity last week that the animosity between the union and the company is very intense.”
Federal officials were also concerned about the possibility of confrontations on picket lines that might be set up by sympathetic unions to disrupt operations at other airlines.
Meanwhile, Amtrak announced it would add 12 high-speed Metroliner trains in runs between New York and Boston and New York and Washington on Monday to help offset any loss in airline service.
But Amtrak spokesmen also said rail service could be cut substantially--in areas outside the East as well as along the seaboard--if Amtrak personnel decide to honor the machinists’ picket lines. The agency said it is assigning supervisory personnel with training to operate some trains.
The U.S. Postal Service said it has prepared “contingency plans” for keeping mail delivery going by diverting the mail to other airlines and using chartered planes if Eastern is forced to ground substantial numbers of its aircraft.
Ralph Stewart, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said agency planners believe the strike “should not have a severe impact” on mail delivery even if Eastern finds it must shut down.
White House Press spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that in view of the possibility of transportation disruptions, the Transportation Department “will monitor the situation and . . . take whatever steps are needed to protect the safety of the traveling public.”
He said Bush was urging responsible labor officials “not to try to influence resolution of this dispute by disrupting the nation’s transportation system through secondary boycotts” against other airlines.