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CNN Today

FAA Limits Alaska Airlines Heavy Maintenance Autonomy

Aired June 2, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The FAA is recommending drastic action against Alaska Airlines. Within the past hour, federal officials recommended the airline lose, at least temporarily, its authority to maintain its own planes. The move follows a lengthy investigation into the crash back in January of an Alaska Airlines MD- 83.

And CNN's Carl Rochelle joins us now from Washington with the story -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the FAA is proposing to remove the authority of Alaska Airlines to conduct heavy maintenance, that's the stuff inside of the hangars, not the daily checks, but the replacing of engines and repairing of jackscrews and replacing them; things like went wrong with Alaska Airlines Flight 261. We know there was a jackscrew problem there.

They don't say that this is directly related to the crash, but the crash did prompt some very heavy investigation into the maintenance practices of the airline at both of its maintenance bases, the one in Seattle and the one in Oakland. Now the FAA says they didn't find any safety of flight issues, they found nothing that was broken or not repaired properly. But the documentation of it, which is very important in running airline, was not properly done or wasn't done at all. People sometimes just decided it seemed like a good thing to do to fix it that way and they did that, but didn't document any of the procedures that they went through. And the FAA says that's not a way to run an airline.

So what they have done is they've given Alaska Airlines seven days to get together a plan. And 30 days from that seven-day period if the plan is not together and is not working, the airline will cease to be allowed to do its own heavy maintenance. What does that mean? Well, we initially thought it meant they would have to contract the maintenance out. The FAA says no: If you can't document your own maintenance, you can't document someone else doing it for you. And if they don't have a plan together and if they don't have it functional, then they will have to start parking their airplanes and diminishing the size of the fleet. They have 89 aircraft now, at any given time they have four or five in a heavy maintenance base, getting this overhaul before they go back on-line. So those airplanes -- they'll have seven days, any airplane that's in there within the next seven days, it goes out. But what the FAA has done, Natalie, in the seven-day period, is brought some of their own inspectors in to look over the shoulder of the Alaska Airlines maintenance personnel to determine that the airplanes that they are putting out continue to be safe. But if they don't have a plan in operation, the FAA says it's not going to continue to do that and it will begin suspending that authority -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So, for now they can continue to fly but that may end in a matter of days.

ROCHELLE: They can continue to fly for now. But if they don't have that procedure in place, if the FAA is not satisfied with it, 37 days from the date of the letter, which is June 2, I have a copy of the letter that they sent to Alaska Airlines, 37 days from that point, if they don't have it all together, they're going to have to start parking so of those airplanes, until they do get a program into place that will document all of the steps that are taken and ensure the quality of the maintenance is there.

Again, Natalie, they found no safety of flight issues, which means they didn't find any airplane that was flying that was unsafe. But they were afraid if you don't document the evidence, if you don't document what you are doing to the airline, then at some point it becomes a safety factor -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Carl Rochelle, an Alaska Airlines story today, thanks.

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