- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

The Federal Aviation Administration will conduct a massive inspection of all major airlines as a result of the Jan. 31 Alaska Airlines disaster that killed 88 persons.
In addition, the FAA Thursday approved Alaska Airlines' proposals to improve its maintenance programs, meaning the airline won't be forced to shut down.
"Their plan, quite frankly, looks good," said Nick Lacey, director of the FAA's flight standards service.
The Alaska Airlines tragedy persuaded the agency to conduct a 120-day blitz of inspections of the nine major airlines so it can monitor carriers' safety programs and search for the best maintenance programs in the industry.
Mr. Lacey said three teams of six safety inspectors each will begin overseeing maintenance programs of the major carriers July 17.
He did not say which airlines the inspectors will visit first. The major carriers are American Airlines, America West, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, TWA, US Airways and United.
Once that sweep is complete, the agency will check up on the maintenance programs of smaller, regional carriers.
The FAA will use the sweep to measure the effectiveness of its own oversight programs, Mr. Lacey said. It will search for the industry's best maintenance programs so the it can share its findings with all carriers in the industry.
"We want to identify the best practices. If we find serious deficiencies, that could lead to regulatory enforcement," Mr. Lacey said.
Officials at Alaska Airlines, founded in 1932, said Thursday during a press conference at their Seattle headquarters, that they consider the air disaster a turning point in their corporate history and that they have developed a plan to overhaul maintenance and inspections to make it an industry leader in safety.
"It was a very comprehensive plan. We really tried to go above and beyond what they asked for at the FAA," Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Officer John F. Kelly said.
The FAA had said it would strip the carrier of its authority to do maintenance unless it improved its procedures for documenting that work. It would have put the airline out of business.
Mr. Lacey said the FAA still could fine Alaska Airlines and is weighing the option of levying civil penalties. He also said the agency still could take away the airline's right to conduct maintenance on its own aircraft, despite Thursday's announcement.
That will depend on what FAA officials find as they continue inspections of Alaska Airlines.
Mr. Lacey said the FAA never found evidence that Alaska Airlines aircraft are unsafe, only that the company's procedures for documenting maintenance was inadequate.
The cause of the Alaska Airlines MD-80 crash off the coast of California remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The FAA found in a 17-day audit done in April and released yesterday that key executive positions at Alaska Airlines were unfilled. Vacancies in the director of maintenance and director of safety positions created confusion as to whom was responsible for oversight of jet maintenance, auditors concluded.
The FAA kept Alaska Airlines' plan for revamping its maintenance programs for its 89-jet fleet secret until Thursday. According to the plan, Alaska Airlines said it:
Will add 130 new maintenance workers and engineers, 82 of whom already have been hired.
Has hired an executive level safety position, who will have a staff of 11 workers.
Will establish a program to detect and correct maintenance problems and improve safety by requiring greater data collection of maintenance work.
In mid-July the FAA will have a team of inspectors verify that Alaska Airlines is beginning to put in place its new safety procedures. The FAA will conduct similar audits 90 days after that, and then six months later.
The FAA will increase the number of inspectors assigned to Alaska Airlines from 12 to as many as 18 over the next year.
"We welcome and expect their oversight. We need all the eyes we can get," Alaska Airlines President Bill Ayer said.
Only two Alaska Airlines crashes killed passengers before January's tragedy. In 1971, 111 persons died in a crash, and a 1976 crash killed one person.

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