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ALASKA AIRLINES BACK IN THE NEWS

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ALASKA AIRLINES BACK IN THE NEWS

Old 2nd May 2001, 03:57
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SKYDRIFTER
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Exclamation ALASKA AIRLINES BACK IN THE NEWS

ACCORDING TO THE "SEATTLE TIMES" -

On 1 May, a judge with the u.s. National Transportation Safety Board upheld the FAA revokation of a mechanic's license in the case of an Alaska Airlines supervisor, finding that the supervisor had deliberately falsified a maintenance record in 1998.

Judge Patrick Geraghty of the NTSB's administrative court issued a surgical ruling on the falsification charge.

Mechanic, John Nanney was accused of falsely signing an Alaska log sheet implying that he corrected an engine throttle split.

Alaska mechanic, John Liotine, wrote up the throttle discrepancy Dec. 1, 1998, shortly before the aircraft was scheduled to be released for service after a major check. This was similar to the AK-261 aircraft jack-screw replacement matter.

It was illustrated that Nanney examined aircraft paperwork to verify that the routine work had previously been done. The previous work was deemed to be adequate, despite the later identification of the throttle split.

The logic seemed to be consistent with an engine failure being signed off with an entry stating, "Engine previously checked. OK for continued flight," with no repair work being done.

The defense attorneys didn't dispute the FAA's illustration that no verification was made to determine if Liotine was in error, following the engine run-up and logbook entry of the throttle split.

The logbook indicated that Liotine found a problem he claimed had been missed during the routine maintenance. Normal practices and logic would require an additional verification or repair.

Geraghty harshly criticized Alaska in his ruling against the supervisor, appropriately calling the sign-off "illogical and incredible."

Geraghty illustrated that the FAA, backed up by the NTSB, requires maintenance records to be "scrupulously accurate."

Geraghty illuminated the fact that Nanney falsified the record on the specific day that the aircraft was due to be released for service, citing the possibility that the pressure of the scheduled release date could be seen as a motive for the action by Nanney.

Nanney's attorney, Steve Bauer of San Francisco, said his Nanney would appeal to the full safety board; if necessary, to the federal courts. Despite the narrow issue of the alleged falsification, the defense attorney was adamant that broader issues should have been considered. His position was that technicalities aside, the aircraft was never demonstrated to have been, in fact, unsafe.

Those familiar with the enforcement procedures will recognize the narrow scope so often used to inflict enforcement actions. The FAA and NTSB deal with technicalities, not "justice" in the normal concept, despite the mandated standard of judicial conduct prescribed by Federal Regulations. The lack of judicial standards enforcement by the federal government allows the FAA and NTSB their own 'Court of the Star Chamber' system. The system strikes many as being totallly out of control.

During the Nanney hearing, a top manager at Alaska Airlines testified that supervisors at its Oakland maintenance facility have historically signed off repair work performed by others, although the company General Maintenance Manual seemed to prohibit that, clearly enough.

While it is typical in the aviation industry for such a practice to be allowed under controlled and FAA approved conditions, there was apparently no established company procedure allowing such at Alaska. Many would quickly point to the FAA for failing to identifying such an open - but technically illegal practice, and for failing to insist that a policy and procedures be established to allow the practice under safe conditions.

Once again, the FAA was prosecuting a practice which it failed to detect, and by default or neglect, facilitated. Such is an old and continuing problem at Alaska.

The FAA attorneys contended that by Alaska disregarding their own written procedures, the Alaska supervisors risked approving work with no verification that had been done. History suggests that to be precisely the case. For example, the lack of grease on the remains of the AK-261 jack-screw.

While the Nanney case precedes the AK-261 crash, Alaska is supposedly being closely watched by the FAA because the Alaska's maintenance practices have been under scrutiny since the AK-261 crash. However, the attitudes expressed by the defense witnesses suggest a continuing cavalier attitude toward maintenance practices despite the alleged increase in FAA monitoring.

A manager at the Oakland facility (who is now Alaska's southwest regional maintenance manager), stated that it was not unusual for supervisors to sign off work done by other mechanics, even when they hadn't performed the work themselves. Despite the lack of any provision for such a practice, the supervisor claimed that the practice was acceptable, as long as the involved supervisor made efforts to verify the work had been completed.

In keeping with the actual FAA approved practices, Alaska's maintenance manual states in capital letters that problems "MUST" be corrected and signed by the person actually doing the work. However, when confronted by the FAA attorney, the supervisor arrogantly replied, "It doesn't say you can't."

Bewildered by the response, Geraghty attempted to clarify the matter by asking the supervisor if - despite the clear language in the manual - he believed that it was acceptable for supervisors to take such an action, the supervisor replied, "That's correct." Regulations, policies and procedures didn't seem to matter to the defense witnesses.

Even in the face of events over the past two years, Alaska spokesman Jack Evans stated that Alaska has been changing its manual in the very recent past to clarify that supervisors may sign off another mechanic's work, so long as a "reasonable verification" is made the work has been performed. While other major airlines follow that practice, it is normally done under strictly controlled conditions.

Nanney's defense included testimony from an Alaska quality-control supervisor, who testified that he told Nanney that Liotine was wrong because paperwork showed the throttles had previously been checked (prior to the runup). Despite the sequence of events, the quality-control supervisor was indifferent to the fact that no verification had been made, subequent to Liotine's write-up. No independent check was done as a consequence of Liotine's claim.

The QC supervisor additionally testified that Nanney asked him, "How can we get rid of this discrepancy?" There was no description in the testimony that anyone attempted to verify or fix Liotine's write-up, nor that any one cared at the time or since.

Liotine later also became a key figure in the Flight 261 investigation, when it was disclosed that he had ordered the replacement of a the jack-screw, suspected of failing during the course of the crash events. Liotine concluded that the jackscrew assembly was too close to its wear limit to be legal. In a similar fashion, mechanics in the same Oakland facility overruled Liotine's decision to replace the jackscrew, following additional tests which allegedly showed the part to be well within its wear limit. Eight-eight people died in the Flight 261 crash.

Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration, announced that it is proposing a $211,000 civil penalty against Alaska for allegedly operating a damaged plane on 47 flights without making the required logbook entries.

In that separate matter involving the FAA's proposed fine, the incident started on March 30, 1999, when the pilots got an indication of an unsafe landing gear on an MD-80. The crew initially followed the Alaska procedures by landing the plane with the main landing-gear doors extended.

However, the left main landing-gear door skid plate was damaged and should have been replaced, according to the FAA.

 

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