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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FAA Grounds ValuJet, Faces Shakeup

WASHINGTON -- ValuJet halted operations Tuesday under pressure from the same government officials who declared the airline safe after a ValuJet plane crashed five weeks ago in the Florida Everglades.

The Federal Aviation Administration, accused of negligence for failing to spot ValuJet's shortcomings earlier, reportedly was about to force its top safety official into retirement as part of a larger shakeup.

The FAA called a news conference to announce changes at the agency. The Washington Post reported that Anthony Broderick, the agency's longtime associate administrator for regulation and certification, would retire and his dual responsibilities would be divided under a new structure.

FAA Administrator David Hinson, interviewed on morning television talk shows, declined comment on the reported shakeup.

Hinson defended the FAA's handling of the ValuJet investigation. "We have to present a case that would stand up in court. We have done that,'' he told NBC. He said the FAA lacked documentation to ground the airline when he said a month ago the carrier was safe. But, he conceded, "There's some culpability here at the agency.''

Hinson said he is confident other discount airlines are safe. "There is not a single new carrier now or historically that has grown'' as rapidly as ValuJet, he said.

The FAA found "several serious deficiencies in ValuJet's operations'' following an intensive 30-day inspection, Hinson said Monday, about six hours before the midnight suspension of flights took effect.

ValuJet called the FAA action "grossly unfair'' and said it hoped to be back in operation within 30 days. ValuJet President Lewis Jordan said the airline would provide full refunds for ticket holders.

The airline, which serves 31 cities in 19 states, canceled all of Tuesday's flights, along with many on Monday night.

In forcing ValuJet out of the skies, Hinson cited "system-wide deficiencies'' in the fast-growing airline's maintenance program and "multiple shortcomings'' in its quality control over outside contractors that are responsible for much of the airline's maintenance. ValuJet also failed to establish the airworthiness of some of its airplanes, he said.