Alaska Air cuts growth plans to meet safety and maintenance requirements

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) -- Alaska Airlines has postponed plans to increase service this fall, largely because of costly measures to meet Federal Aviation Administration safety concerns.

In a posting on the company's employee Web site, Alaska Air Group chief financial officer Bradley D. Tilden said 170 maintenance and operations jobs are being added at a cost of about $17 million a year.

''It's important to note that many of the resources we are adding will ultimately save us money,'' chiefly through better internal oversight, Tilden said.

Alaska Airlines, which dominates north-south routes along the West Coast, has been under scrutiny since a crash in which 88 people died off the Southern California coast on Jan. 31. FAA investigators and consultants hired by the company said the carrier's maintenance and operations areas were understaffed and work was poorly documented.

Flight operations by the nation's 10th largest carrier have been affected by the extra time required to complete FAA-required paperwork, said Tilden and company chairman John F. Kelly, who also was quoted in the Web posting.

''We had a plan to get our operation back on track and were making great progress when we experienced a number of setbacks that really threw a monkey wrench into the works,'' Kelly said. ''(Planes) that were scheduled to come out of maintenance checks have not been coming back into the schedule on the anticipated date because of new documentation procedures and more.''

Compounding the problem, more planes than usual are due for heavy maintenance this year, a procedure that usually takes at least a month, Kelly said.

As with other airlines, Alaska Airlines has reported a higher percentage of seats occupied by paying passengers this year, but earnings have suffered from higher fuel prices and limited aircraft availability.

Airline officials are ''developing an even more conservative flight plan as we move into the fall schedule,'' he said.

''Until our more recent schedule changes,'' Kelly said, ''we still hoped to have a small percentage of positive growth this year. Now it looks like it will be basically flat.''

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