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America West, United, Continental to lead off series of safety audits

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WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News Service) — America West Airlines Inc., UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc. will lead off a series of federal safety audits of major U.S. carriers sparked by an Alaska Airlines crash in January.

The Federal Aviation Administration picked the three airlines for the two-week inspections not because of particular safety concerns but as a result of the availability of the agency's inspectors and the locations of the companies' headquarters, said FAA spokeswoman Allison Duquette. The agency decided on the inspections last month after finding problems with Alaska Airlines' maintenance following the fatal crash of the Alaska Air Group Inc. unit's Flight 261 on Jan. 31.

The three airlines couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Their inspections begin July 17. The schedule for the remaining six carriers hasn't yet been set, Duquette said.

The FAA plans agency to release a report at the end of the four-month inspection period.