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Regional carrier ASA grounds jets for inspections

ATLANTA – Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a unit of SkyWest Inc. and one of nine regional carriers for Delta Air Lines Inc., said Wednesday it grounded 60 of its 112 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 jets after an internal audit raised safety concerns.

The groundings, which represent nearly 40 percent of ASA’s total fleet, caused scattered flight cancellations throughout the day, but ASA declined to disclose how many, saying the situation was fluid. Company spokeswoman Kate Modolo said the carrier hoped to have all the planes returned to service by 8 p.m. EDT Thursday.

The paperwork audit raised questions about whether the engines on Bombardier CRJ200 jets had been properly inspected according to the guidelines provided by the engines’ manufacturer, Modolo said.

The company reported the problem itself to the Federal Aviation Administration and grounded the planes so they could be re-inspected as a precautionary measure, she said.

Some of the planes were being inspected at the airline’s hub, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest. Others were scattered around ASA’s other maintenance facilities.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said Delta was working to accommodate affected passengers and to cover as many ASA flights as possible with other regional carriers or Delta mainline planes.

According to its Web site, Atlanta-based ASA also has 38 70-seat Bombardier CRJ700 jets and two 76-seat Bombardier CRJ900 jets.

Delta sold ASA to St. George, Utah-based SkyWest in 2005 for $425 million in cash. ASA remains a regional carrier for Delta, the world’s biggest airline operator, and operates under the Delta Connection fold. ASA doesn’t fly for any other major carrier. Delta owns Northwest Airlines and three of the other eight regional carriers it uses to provide connecting service to its customers.

ASA serves 110 airports in the U.S., Bahamas and Canada.

After the announcement by ASA, Standard & Poor’s reiterated its sell opinion on shares of parent SkyWest.

“SkyWest was already facing capacity reductions, decreased utilization and rising maintenance costs,” S&P’s Jim Corridore said. “This grounding will exacerbate all of those issues, in our view. We think additional capacity cuts by SkyWest’s airline partners are possible, and some of these cuts would likely be to regional jets.”

SkyWest shares rose 28 cents, or 2.3 percent, to close at $12.72 in Wednesday trading, as the broader stock market soared on the first day of the second quarter.

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