Oregon aircraft maintenance company says it was blindsided by lawsuit

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2001

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Officials at Evergreen International Aviation said Monday they were blindsided by a lawsuit filed this month by a British cargo carrier that said a company subsidiary performed shoddy maintenance work on its airplane. Evergreen, a longtime cargo carrier in Alaska, last month won a contract to provide passenger service to Adak.

London-based Airfreight Express Ltd. sued Evergreen for at least $10 million in Arizona Superior Court this month, also alleging that the Evergreen Air Center in Marana, Ariz., overbilled for thousands of hours of work.

The center performs maintenance on commercial aircraft, including 747 freighters, and does final checks for airplane manufacturers before airplanes are delivered. It maintains the 747s NASA uses to ferry the space shuttle.

Airfreight's suit says Evergreen botched repairs, failed to perform required work, padded bills and extorted money for repairs on a Boeing 747 cargo plane that was in storage at the Marana facility when Airfreight Express bought it.

The company also claims Evergreen altered work cards detailing the work performed.

''This action arises out of Evergreen's fraudulent scheme to bilk plaintiffs out of vast sums of money by a pattern of misrepresentation and disregard of contractual obligations,'' the lawsuit says. ''Evergreen's malfeasance created risks of public safety and severe damage to plaintiff's business.''

The suit also accuses Evergreen of keeping sloppy paperwork and not organizing its labor efficiently.

''Evergreen's constantly escalating charges were not only undocumented, but AFX was told it had to pay whatever Evergreen demanded or the repair work on the aircraft would not be completed and the aircraft would not be released,'' the suit said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Alan Kenitzer confirmed Monday that his agency is investigating, but would not elaborate.

Evergreen officials said they were never given a chance to tell their side of the story and that Airfreight should have worked things out with them before filing the lawsuit.

In an official statement, Evergreen president Trevor Van Horn said there had never been problems with the company's service, and the lawsuit was about money, not safety.

''AFX consistently failed to meet its payments on time for our repairs, which did cause delays in work. But they never once raised safety as an issue,'' Van Horn said.

Company officials say they were surprised when Airfreight Express went public with its complaint before Evergreen had been served with the suit, filed Aug. 2.

''AFX knows that safety is a hot-button issue for the media and chose to make this a public issue even before the company had a chance to review the lawsuit,'' Van Horn said.

The case got national attention last week when Time magazine's aviation columnist wrote that sub-par repairs by the company were a threat to air safety.

Airfreight officials in London were unavailable for comment Monday.

Because the suit is pending, Evergreen officials didn't elaborate on the aircraft discussed in the case.

But Evergreen's lawyer, Mike Hennigan, said Airfreight Express is trying to make its case in public because the company knows it doesn't have one in court.

Evergreen's maintenance center is ''one of the finest in the world, and they have a perfect safety record,'' Hennigan said Monday. ''They've got vast experience with 747s.''

Airfreight mechanics who examined the plane before it left Arizona found it to be problem-free and the plane was flown out of the state without complaints and kept flying even after Airfreight officials say they discovered the problems, Hennigan said.

Contacted by The Associated Press Monday, Boeing 747 division spokesman Gary Lesser said the company doesn't comment publicly on any of its suppliers.

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