Debt Propelled

The airline-buyout binge raises fears that jet safety will suffer

When an ordinary company takes on a load of debt, the people who have the most to fear are employees and investors. But when an airline goes heavily into hock, the worriers are joined by another group: customers. If an airline is bogged down by debt, they wonder, would the carrier be tempted to save money by lowering its standards on maintenance and other safety measures? Everyone from passengers to politicians has begun to debate that question as billion-dollar takeover wars sweep the U.S. airline industry. Says Jerome Lederer, founder of the Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation, an aviation- research group: "Buyouts...

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