Paperwork on 81 Alaska planes to be checked as investigation continues : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Paperwork on 81 Alaska planes to be checked

2 problems turn up; little inconvenience expected

Thursday, April 20, 2000



Alaska Airlines will review maintenance records for almost all of its planes because federal inspectors found problems in the paperwork for two jetliners.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is conducting an extensive inspection of the Seattle-based airline in the wake of January's crash off the California coast, will oversee the review and lend a hand.

Company and FAA representatives will examine maintenance papers for 81 planes -- six per day for the next two weeks -- to ensure each heavy maintenance check was documented according to regulations, FAA spokesman Mitch Barker said.

Alaska has 89 planes, but eight are too new to have undergone the heavy maintenance, which is done every 15 months, Barker said.

Alaska officials said they do not expect the process to be noticed by passengers.

"It will not affect the schedule because it's a paperwork review," said Alaska spokeswoman Jan Fisher.

Although the review itself won't likely effect flight schedules, the airline already planned to cancel some flights later this month to help reduce mechanic workload. Alaska began the review after the FAA informed it that paperwork was incomplete for the two jets and required "immediate action."

One plane, a Boeing 737, was in service Tuesday when FAA officials discovered the paperwork on its last heavy maintenance check done in Seattle was missing a signature, Fisher said.

Alaska grounded the plane, which was making a stopover at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. FAA inspectors and an Alaska mechanic determined that the work had been done, Barker said, and the plane was returned to service. Fisher said she did not know how many times the plane had been flown since the work was done on April 4.

FAA inspectors who checked the other plane, an MD-80, found "irregularities regarding the procedures to release the aircraft for (a) test flight" at the company's Oakland, Calif., hangar, said Fisher, who could not provide details. But the problem was caught before the plane ever left the ground, she said.

Both planes had undergone intensive "C" check inspections, for which the FAA requires hefty documentation, which in turn requires thousands sign-offs by mechanics and inspectors.

Federal Aviation Regulations require detailed, specific documentation of maintenance work. The FAA deems planes without correct and complete paperwork "unairworthy." The FAA's findings come after other problems surfaced at Alaska.

For more than a year a Bay Area grand jury has been probing allegations that Alaska officials in Oakland falsified records to show planes had been maintained or repaired when the work had not been done, or was not properly documented. The FAA has recommended that three Alaska supervisors there lose their mechanic's licenses, but no criminal charges have been filed.

Then came the Jan. 31 crash of Alaska Flight 261, which killed all 88 people on board.

The condition of a key part that controls the plane's tail-mounted horizontal stabilizer and its last "C" check in Oakland have become a focus of the crash investigation.

In recent weeks, 64 mechanics in Seattle signed a letter saying they were ordered to cut corners on repairs.

Those factors led to the special FAA safety audit, commonly called a "white-glove inspection." A team of 15 FAA inspectors from around the country has been conducting the audit of the airline's compliance with regulations.

Since April 3, they have been in Alaska's Oakland and Sea-Tac Airport hangars looking at maintenance procedures, paperwork and other practices of the Seattle-based carrier.

The inspectors are charged with focusing on airworthiness and flight operations, including pilot procedures and training, FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said.

FAA officials will now spend the three weeks reviewing their findings and deciding if further action is needed. FAA inspectors can issue recommendations or orders, as well as levy civil fines.

Last week the Post-Intelligencer reported that the FAA's relationship with Alaska is under FBI scrutiny.

The FBI and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General has been investigating Alaska's Oakland maintenance operation and the crash of Flight 261.

Criminal justice and aviation industry sources told the P-I that the FBI is conducting an initial inquiry to determine if a formal investigation into the FAA's oversight of Alaska is justified.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 20, 2000

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