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FAA proposes $590K fine for Alaska Air

Posted: September 11, 2011 - 12:05am

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a civil penalty against Alaska Airlines of $590,000. The FAA claims the airline operated a 737 jet on 2,107 flights when it was out of compliance with maintenance requirements.

The proposed fine follows a flight a flight deck ceiling fire on Jan. 18, 2010. It occurred aboard a B-737-400 that was parked at the gate at Anchorage International Airport. Investigators determined the fire was caused by chafed wiring from improper installation of an air hose clamp. Alaska Airlines had most recently performed maintenance in the burned area in August 2008.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said in a statement that the clamp came into contact with nearby wires, causing several circuit breakers to trip during a maintenance inspection. While troubleshooting, the technician saw a yellow glow along the seam of an equipment panel, which is 6 inches by 12 inches, where the clamp was enclosed. He opened the panel and immediately extinguished the small fire.

Alaska Airlines subsequently discovered the same problem on nine other B-737-400s and repositioned the hose clamps. Only one had indications of minor chafing so the clamp was re-positioned and wire damage was addressed. No other fires were reported.

Alaska Airlines states it had 33 of these aircraft at the time.

The B-737-400 maintenance manual includes an explicit warning about proper installation of the hose clamp.

“Maintenance work has to be performed precisely and correctly every time,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a release. “Improper maintenance can have serious consequences.”

The penalty can be appealed. Alaska Airlines has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letter, which was sent on Friday, to respond to the agency.

Alaska Region FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said that when large cases dealing with amounts over $400,000 can’t be settled, they’re generally referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to file the complaint in federal district court.

“There’s definitely a process in place to make sure we provide all the details regarding our procedures,” said Kenitzer.

He said the next step would be an informal meeting with the airline.

Egan said the airline continuously works with federal authorities to ensure passenger safety. She said Alaska is in full compliance with all federal aviation regulations.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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