Alaska pleased with FAA inspection results, say plan already in effect

Posted: Friday, June 30, 2000

SEATAC, Wash. (AP) -- Executives at Alaska Airlines, relieved that federal regulators did not shut down the company's aircraft maintenance operations, said they are committed to becoming ''number one'' in safety and compliance with federal regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday approved Alaska's plan to improve its maintenance, oversight and safety procedures airline-wide. Alaska's plan called for the hiring of 170 new employees, most of them in engineering and maintenance.

''We're very pleased that the FAA has accepted our plan ... we really tried to go above and beyond what they asked for,'' Alaska Airlines Chairman John F. Kelly said at a briefing at the airline's suburban Seattle headquarters.

Alaska was the target of a ''white glove'' inspection by the FAA, prompted by the crash of Alaska Flight 261 off the California coast in January, which killed all 88 people aboard. The April audit found more than 150 cases of improperly documented maintenance, though the work was found to have been completed.

''There's no question that we have had problems,'' said Alaska President Bill Ayer, who said he was surprised at what the FAA found. ''There's also no question that we have the basis, in this plan, for making this airline an industry leader, number one in safety and compliance.''

Ayer said the company already addressed FAA concerns expressed during the audit in April, and have another 25 improvements to make over the course of the next 12 months. Ayer would not put a price tag on the changes, but said they would eventually save the company money.

No fines have been levied against the company, though they are expected. Ayer said Alaska would accept and pay any fines necessary.

The FAA will still keep close tabs on the airline, issuing another report on Alaska's maintenance in 90 days, and a third six months after that. Then, if all goes well, the FAA may give the airline a clean bill of health.

The agency will also increase its permanent staff of inspectors at Alaska facilities from 12 to 18.

Ayer welcomed the change.

''We need all the eyes we can get on the changes that we're making,'' he said.

In the months after the crash of Flight 261, employees and passengers expressed concern about the airline's safety. Shortly after the crash, 64 Alaska mechanics wrote a letter to Alaska executives, accusing the company of tacitly approving rushed maintenance. Ayer said Thursday that those concerns had been addressed.

On June 11, after a newspaper report on questionable maintenance on a particular aircraft, two flight attendants and four passengers walked off the same plane before takeoff in Seattle.

The airline has also been the victim of circumstances and minor incidents. In March, a boy who picked up the wrong backpack caused a scare on board an Alaska when it was found the backpack contained a fake bomb used for security training, and in April, a loaded handgun packed inside a suitcase went off in an Alaska jet's cargo hold, nearly hitting a passenger sitting above.

Just Wednesday night, a catering truck crashed into the wing of an Alaska jet parked at the gate in Seattle, taking the plane out of service for the holiday weekend.

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