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CNN Today

Alaska Airlines Cancels Dozens of Flights to Reinspect MD-80s

Aired August 4, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of Alaska Airlines ticket holders will have to change their weekend travel plans while the airline reinspects more than half its fleet of MD-80 aircraft. That's the model of plane that crashed off the coast of Southern California back in January, you will recall, killing all 88 people on board. The crash has tentatively been blamed on a jackscrew in the horizontal stabilizer, and that part was checked in February on all MD-80s nationwide. So why the new inspections?

CNN's Greg Lefevre is in Oakland, California, has an answer for us -- Greg.

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the answer is that Alaska Airlines doesn't trust its own inspections, and that's very troubling. Alaska wants another look at how it inspects the jackscrew on these planes.

Now, the jackscrew, as you indicated, controls the horizontal stabilizer, controls, literally, the back end of the plane and helps the pilot steer it. As you may recall, the pilots of that ill-fated flight back at the end of January were having a tough time controlling the stability of the plane.

Now, Boeing, the owner of the MD-80 parent company, makes the instruments that check for wear on the jackscrew. Alaska Airlines manufactured its own duplicate of that instrument. It's allowed to do that under FAA rules.

However, Alaska, this week and last, found discrepancies in how its tool measures the wear on the jackscrew versus the tool manufactured by Boeing. And so Alaska voluntarily pulled the planes out of service that had been inspected by its own instrument. It wanted to double check the wear on the jackscrew using the Boeing tool. That is, up to 18 MD-80s were pulled out of service. We saw five of them here at the Oakland maintenance facility here near Oakland International Airport.

Alaska Airlines canceled 19 flights last night. We hear that they canceled another 30 flights today. Alaska tells us that they will be finished with these inspections in about two hours from now, and they want to have all these planes back in the air by the end of the day today.

They want no more passenger disruptions after today. There will be some crew disruptions as they move crews around the West trying to pick up these planes and get them back into service.

But, Lou, all of this episode raises a very troubling issue, and this: If you can't trust the tools that you do the inspections with, where does that leave you?

Lou, back to you in Atlanta.

WATERS: So this -- as I understand what you're saying, this does not affect other airlines, owners of MD-80s because they are using the Boeing materials?

LEFEVRE: From what we understand, the FAA has asked other airlines to do inspections, reinspections, of their own MD-80s using Boeing tools. We have not learned from the other airlines whether they are using their own manufactured tools or if they're using the Boeing's as well. But the guidance from the FAA late last night was: double check again just to be sure -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Greg Lefevre in Oakland.

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