Mechanic who criticized Alaska Airlines put on leave

Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000

An Alaska Airlines mechanic who said several airline jets have gone back into the air in potentially dangerous condition after maintenance in Seattle has been placed on paid leave.

Earlier this week, John Young told several news organizations that supervisors pressured mechanics to skimp on maintenance and not replace vital parts.

Young was told Friday he was placed on leave ``in the interest of investigating the concerns you have raised, and to ensure an orderly work environment,'' according to a letter from Art Fitzpatrick, the airline's director of Seattle base maintenance.

``This leave was not invoked to punish anyone,'' said Lou Cancelmi, Alaska's director of corporate communications. ``Young's comments have caused some consternation. We want to calm the atmosphere, focus on maintenance.''

Company spokesman Greg Witter said he expected Young to be back at work next week.

``I certainly don't want to lose my job,'' Young told The Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this week, The Times reported that several Alaska mechanics had told the FBI and federal regulators that some Alaska jets had been returned to service despite concerns that further repairs might be necessary. Young was quoted as saying: ``I know planes have gone out in unsafe condition.''

No accidents resulted from any of the incidents mentioned by mechanics, and none of the allegations involved the Alaska plane that crashed off the Southern California coast in January, killing all 88 aboard.

Tom O'Grady, one of the airline's top lawyers, said the company was ``unaware of any incident in which a plane was returned to service in un-airworthy condition.''

Nonetheless, Young and two other mechanics said a plane was crippled by ice in 1996 after mechanics failed to de-ice it properly, and it had to make an emergency landing. Young and others also mentioned several additional incidents in which they thought maintenance had been inadequate.

A federal grand jury in San Francisco has been examining the West Coast regional carrier's maintenance operation in Oakland, Calif., since 1998.

But the probe spread to Seattle in March after 64 mechanics there wrote a letter to company officials accusing a supervisor of pressuring them to ignore substandard maintenance work.



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