Outside the Lines
Outside the Lines
Tuesday, April 3
Updated: April 11, 1:22 PM ET
An aircraft's history can be just plane scary

By Tom Farrey

Here's the deal. You play basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes or any of the 90 college programs that use the services of the largest provider of chartered aircraft for college teams in the country, the Boston-area broker FlightTime.

Oklahoma Crash
The plane crash that cost the lives of 10 people, including members of the Oklahoma State basketball team, is prompting some schools to review their travel policies.
One of the workhorses of the fleet -- a plane you are now being asked to board -- was made in 1953. It's a 50-seat, prop-engine Convair 580, and at one time there were hundreds of them in the skies. But the major airlines sold them off after a while, to regional carriers, cargo companies or operations in third-world countries.

Some of them crashed. Six in the 1960s. Another 10 in the '70s and '80s. But most of them just disappeared, like proud cats that insist on going elsewhere to leave their carcasses. Many of them sit, rusting, in places like the Congo where some pilot landed too hard and left the plane on the side of an airstrip because it was too expensive to fix.

This particular Convair is among the last of a breed -- and its Federal Aviation Administration record reflects that tenure. Over the past 15 years, under its fourth and fifth owners, 48 mechanical difficulties were reported. Three times the FAA rated the problem as a "severe" safety hazard. There have been seven unscheduled landings and two engine shutdowns. One time, in 1995, the plane was taxiing to the runway when the cabin filled with smoke for reasons that never went explained.

The flying antique already has a hefty 80,000 hours on it. Hard hours, too, unlike a long-distance Boeing 747 that may take off and land just once a day. The pounding takes a toll, even on a sturdy bird like the Convair. An inspection once found dozens of cracks in various areas of the fuselage that had to be repaired.

That was in 1988.

It's now 2001.

So the question to you, as an athlete, is:

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