Multiple federal probes are focusing on how Southwest Airlines Co. was allowed to fly jets that were overdue for safety inspections. Many lawmakers and critics also say the agency overreacted to the Southwest disclosure by forcing AMR Corp.’s American Airlines to cancel thousands of flights this month over a technicality that didn’t pose a serious safety risk.

And runways, too

The Times in a separate A1 story reports that airline experts are more concerned about runway collisions than any of the other recently raised problems.

The paper says the “technology gap” between systems used in the air and on the ground is substantial, and that even though the National Transportation Safety Board has been urgently calling for upgrades for eighteen years, it still rates the FAA’s response as “unacceptable.”

There were fifteen major so-called runway incursions from September to March, and the Times says they’re unnecessary.

Runway collisions are caused almost entirely by human error. But they are still mostly preventable, because the risk could be substantially reduced with existing technology, ranging from paint on the pavement to electronic warning systems.

Some of the more sophisticated electronic systems are commercially available, but are not required by the F.A.A. And the most recent decision by the agency about a new generation of equipment for navigation and surveillance appears to delay the widespread adoption of in-cockpit warning technology by at least more than a decade.

The O.B’s Q.O.D.

And here’s our Fix This Now Quote of the Day:

“If you’ve got a G.P.S. in your car, you have infinitely more detailed information about where you are than in the cockpit of an airplane on the ground at Kennedy,” (said the former head of the pilot’s union).

Merrill’s bull

Merrill Lynch, whose CEO has claimed it won’t need to raise more capital, is in talks with private-equity firm TPG to give it more capital if it needs it, the FT scoops on page one.

The two talked in the fall before Merrill was rescued by foreign investment pools, but TPG insisted on a board seat for a sizeable capital infusion, unlike the overseas investors, which basically handed Merrill $12 billion.

Subcompact nation

The Journal takes a nice look at the long-term problems preventing a solution to our reliance on foreign oil (and oil in general, for that matter).

It leads with a Chuck Berry lyric about his V-8 Ford and says Bush’s admirably aggressive fuel-efficiency plan would force the average car to have the mileage of a Ford Focus subcompact, rather than a V-6 Ford Taurus, as is the case today.

History suggests that is a leap of faith, indeed, and that ending what Mr. Bush called our “addiction to oil” will require a more-fundamental transformation of the American lifestyle…

Starting in 1975, after the first of the oil shocks that made life miserable in that decade, car makers have roughly doubled the average mileage of new cars.

However, the number of miles driven more than doubled from 1975 through 2006. Total gasoline consumption rose by 61% during the same period and 17% on a per-capita basis.

Nothing really new here, but it’s a good analysis—and a good read.


Microsoft bucked the positive tech trend. Its profits fell eleven percent as sales slowed from a year ago when it was launching its troubled Vista operating system, but it issued a soft forecast that disappointed investors and its shares fell five percent after hours, the WSJ says on B3. The NYT, though, says the company provided an “optimistic outlook.”

We’ll go with the Journal on this one—the Times bizarrely attributes the significant after-hours decline to Microsoft not spelling out what exactly it will do regarding its $44 billion bid for Yahoo, which isn’t cooperating.
The software giant says it hasn’t seen much of a consumer slowdown yet, though it expects one to come.

Best hed
Headline of the Day, from the Journal’s Marketplace cover: “Mozilo’s Pay Plunged 79%; He Still Made $10.8 Million”.

Mozilo, of course, is Angelo Mozilo, the Countrywide CEO known for his leathery tan and his subprime lending.

But the Journal’s story then goes on to say he also raked in $121.5 million from exercising stock-options, which last we knew was considered part of total compensation.

Rumormongers afoot

The Securities and Exchange Commission accused a trader of spreading false rumors in order to sell a stock short and make a quick profit. ADS stock fell seventeen percent on the rumor and the trader made $25,000.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.