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THE AVIATION thriller is a respected, if rare, member of the suspense family. To classics like Ernest K. Gann's "The High and the Mighty" and Nevil Shute's "No Highway" we now may add John J. Nance's remarkably powerful "Final Approach."

It goes far beyond Gann's and Shute's cabin and flight-deck tensions to dig deeply into the intricacies of the airline and aircraft industries and the dangers posed to the flying public by bureaucratic and political maneuvering within our national agencies and on Captiol Hill.

Nance's "non-military techno-thriller" begins with the collision of an incoming Airbus 320 and an awaiting-takeoff Boeing 737 at Kansas City's storm-swept airport. After a harrowing description of the disaster, the author devotes the remaining four-fifths of "Final Approach" to the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the crash.

As the board's "Go-Go Team" probes, it must examine such possibilities as sabotage, interference from a powerful secret Air Force radar, a "bug" in the foreign-made Airbus' new electronic control system, and pilot error. Search for the truth means taking on formidable forces like politically ambitious executives in the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, airline companies, the airline pilots' union and aircraft manufacturers, each with its own -- and often conflicting -- agendas.

No one is more capable of delivering an authentic inside look at the nation's airline industry and its regulatory agencies than Nance, a Tacoma, Wash., resident. He's a former Braniff pilot, a lawyer and an internationally recognized expert on aviation. "Final Approach," a first novel, proves he's a top-notch storyteller as well.

Final Approach, by John J. Nance. Crown. 420 pages $19.95.

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