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AIRLINES AIM TO STAY GROUNDED IN SAFETY

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LONDON -- El Al Israel Airlines and Indian Airlines are two companies with contrasting safety records and reputations.

El Al is a long-recognized world leader in airline safety. Indian admits it has had its safety problems but says those have been addressed.

Both companies gave practical insights into their security and risk management strategies at the first Global Aviation Insurance Conference in London last month.

Zeev Regev, insurance and fuel manager for El Al, said the company has a long experience of identifying and managing risk. In July 1968, one of El Al's Boeing 707 aircraft was hijacked by Algerian terrorists.

"El Al recognized we had a threat to civil aviation and we had to respond," Mr. Regev said.

He said that threat has continued to the present day and has been even further heightened by conflicts in the Middle East during 1990s.

"(Managing the risk) is not a question of expense, as our mere existence as an airline depends on the fact that we can safely transfer people from one place to another and not be subject to any sort of violence or terrorism on the way."

Mr. Regev said El Al is happy to share with the public and other airlines many of the risk management strategies it has devised.

"We are not very secretive about many methods that we use, because what we do want is to deter perpetrators from doing their act."

El Al places much emphasis on its own security forces.

"We never have one of our aircraft in another country not guarded by our own security," Mr. Regev said. "We have to have our own security."

He said the Australian government will not allow El Al to have its own security forces at Australian airports; therefore, El Al does not fly there.

El Al also regularly rotates its security staff to combat complacency.

"No chief of security stays in charge of any one department for more than three years," Mr. Regev said.

"One of the biggest dangers to security is complacency, so we don't let (staff) become too content with what they are doing."

One of El Al's major security focuses is airline cargo.

The airline does not take any cargo on board without putting it through a decompression test chamber, which simulates air pressure at altitude.

El Al also has a policy of not meeting customers' demands for cargo to travel on specific flights.

"If someone comes in and wants cargo on a particular flight, you can be sure that it won't be," Mr. Regev said.

El Al also fosters security awareness among its sales force.

"If someone is acting suspiciously when buying a ticket, our staff will put an asterisk next to their name for when they check in," Mr. Regev said.

He said El Al has successfully identified passengers carrying explosives using this method.

Indian Airlines had a spate of accidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leading to a high claims ratio.

In the six fiscal years from 1988 to 1994, Indian Airlines paid combined hull and liability premiums of $56.2 million. During the same period, the airline had claims totaling $174.1 million, including five total aircraft losses.

Executives of Indian Airlines were very concerned by a string of domestic crashes during that period and since 1993 have implemented a risk management plan to address the situation.

In the past four years, Indian Airlines has had an accident-free record and achieved a dramatic reduction in claims.

For the three fiscal years from 1994 to 1997, Indian Airlines paid combined hull and liability premiums of $91.1 million.

During the same period, the airline had claims totalling $6.7 million.

Risk management steps taken voluntarily by Indian Airlines since 1993 include:

* Phasing out all old-series Boeing 737 aircraft, which were involved in three of the five crashes between 1988 and 1994.

* Installation of flight data recorders on all Boeing 737s.

* Installation of modern X-ray machines for detection of explosives at airport terminals.

* Improvements in engineering and operational facilities, resulting in increased aircraft utilization and dispatch reliability.

* Introduction of productivity incentives for pilots and engineers to improve their morale and efficiency.

* Implementation of computerized crew rostering to ensure proper rest between flights.

* Improvement in navigational aids and facilities.

* Establishment of a "mock up" training facility, including training equipment, flight simulators and facilities for evacuation training on land and water.

* Establishment of modern hangars at Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta.

* Publication of quarterly "Flight Safety" magazine, covering critical areas of flight operations and safety, for all employees.