Airplane inspections winding down, suspect parts in federal hands

Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Suspect parts removed from the tail sections of several MD-80 series airplanes were in government hands Monday as the urgent inspection program for the planes wound down.

The jackscrews used to move the stabilizers were replaced in a number of planes after inspections revealed grit or metal shavings in their lubricant, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

Airlines were ordered Friday to inspect the planes within 72 hours, after problems were found in the jackscrew of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, an MD-83 that crashed Jan. 31, killing all 88 people aboard. At least five Alaskans were aboard the plane. Among the victims were Morris and Thelma Thompson of Fairbanks, their daughter Sheryl Thompson of Valdez and Malcolm Branson and Janice Stokes of Ketchikan.

The crew lost control of that plane while trying to fix a problem with the stabilizer, a tail part that controls the plane's up-and-down motion. The long jackscrew moves the stabilizer, a design that is similar in nearly 1,100 MD-80, MD-90, DC-9 and Boeing 717 planes in service with various airlines.

The military has also been checking its C-9 planes, the military version of the DC-9. No problems have been found during inspections of the 29 C-9 aircraft operated by the Navy and Marine Corps, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Elizabeth Zimmermann.

Air Force spokesman Capt. Brad Jessmer said all of his service's operational C-9s had passed inspection, while the planes currently down for maintenance still have to be checked.

Suspect jackscrews removed from aircraft were being turned over to the FAA. Some were already being evaluated at the National Transportation Safety Board laboratory.

The NTSB, meanwhile, reported that two years ago the jackscrew on the crashed plane had been slated for replacement during an inspection, but a recheck determined it operated within allowable limits so it was left in service. It had since been rechecked several times and passed.

''The significance of this information is continuing to be evaluated by the NTSB. No determination has been made as to whether this information has any bearing on the accident,'' the Safety Board said in a statement.

A federal grand jury has been investigating a whistle-blower's complaints of maintenance irregularities at the airline's Oakland service center. However, the Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this month that the jet that crashed was not involved in the investigation.

In addition to ordering the inspections, the FAA increased the frequency of regular jackscrew inspections from every eight months to about every three months.

The exact number of planes subject to inspection was not clear, with the FAA initially reporting Monday that 1,027 planes were involved but later raising that to 1,098.

Here is a rundown of the inspection findings so far, listing the number of each airline's planes that need inspections and any problems found. Not all airlines had finished the inspections at the time this list was compiled.

Airborne Express, 75 planes, two jackscrews found to lack lubricant, both were lubed.

AirTran, 44 planes, two had grit in the jackscrew grease, one failed a movement check, all three jackscrews were replaced.

Alaska Airlines, 34 planes, eight problems were found, four jackscrews were replaced and the others are being evaluated.

Allegiant Air, three planes, no problems found.

American Airlines, 284 planes, one jackscrew lacked lubricant, it was lubricated.

Continental Airlines, 69 planes, one had grit in the jackscrew grease, the jackscrew was replaced.

Delta Air Lines, 136 planes, four with problems found, one jackscrew replaced, one was relubed, two are being evaluated.

Hawaiian Airlines, 15 planes, two had shavings in the grease, both jackscrews replaced.

Kitty Hawk, 5 planes, no problems found.

Legend Airlines, 4 planes, no report.

Midwest Express, 31 planes, no problems found.

Northwest Airlines, 172 planes, one with grit in the grease, jackscrew replaced.

Spirit, 25 planes, no problems found.

TWA, 131 planes, one with metal shavings, jackscrew replaced.

USAirways, 62 planes, no problems found.

US Jet Express, 8 planes, no problems found.

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