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USAIR PROGRAM AIMED TO DELAY JET OVERHAULS

USAir was trying to save money by squeezing more use from the engines of the plane that crashed outside Pittsburgh, a source familiar with the airline's maintenance says.

By running the older engines on short flights instead of more-taxing long trips, USAir aimed to save $1 million per plane and postpone an overhaul for two years, the source said Tuesday.On short flights, less thrust is needed because the planes aren't weighed down with as much fuel. The lower thrust rate means the engines don't run as hot and don't need to be refurbished as often.

USAir got FAA approval to adopt the practice in February as part of a broader cost-cutting effort. The Sept. 8 crash came as Flight 427 approached Pittsburgh for a scheduled stop. All 132 people aboard were killed.

USAir, which is trying to cut annual overhead by $1 billion, denied it is scrimping on safety to save money. In a statement released late Tuesday evening, USAir said it was trying to adjust its fleet to reduce the number of long flights and fly more short trips.

The practice of giving older jets less stressful flights was first reported in February by Aerospace Propulsion, an industry newsletter. Barron's this week reported the engines on Flight 427 were part of the program.

USAir spokeswoman Andrea Butler wasn't able to confirm whether the engines on the 737-300 that crashed had been switched to shorter routes to avoid an overhaul. Of the more than 100 737-300 jets USAir operates, 28 were covered by the program.

But a source familiar with the engine rating program said Tuesday that the engines and the jet that crashed were part of the program.