Alaska Airlines last week admitted legal liability for the 31 January 2000 crash of a Boeing MD-80 off the southern California coast. All five crew and 83 passengers died in the accident, which was caused by fracture of the horizontal stabiliser screwjack in flight. Boeing says it is not contesting liability for design, but maintains it was not responsible for the deaths.

On 2 June Alaska and Boeing declared their respective positions to the San Francisco District Court presiding over the remaining unsettled wrongful death suits. The airline, which says it will not comment further, admits liability under the Warsaw Convention.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigation report found that the screwjack had failed because of inadequate lubrication, and the Federal Aviation Administration subsequently criticised the airline's maintenance management. The NTSB's report observed there was no fail-safe system design to cope with horizontal stabiliser screwjack mechanism failure, and the FAA has so far not required development of such a system. Boeing says: "We're interested in resolving these proceedings and getting the families the compensation they deserve so they can move on...we do not admit liability."

The court has already ruled that Boeing is not liable for punitive damages, but Alaska has said it will pay whatever compensation the jury awards. There is still a federal criminal proceeding against Alaska.

Source: Flight International