Alaska Airlines has won a reprieve from its threatened loss of authority to conduct heavy aircraft maintenance, the US Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed. Now, however, such maintenance audits are to extend to nine additional major US airlines over the next four months.

"Considering the problems we found at Alaska, we thought it would be prudent to go back and evaluate how the other major airlines are doing in these areas," says Nick Lacey, director of the FAA's Flight Standards Service. "If, while conducting these evaluations, we find any safety of flight issues, we will take immediate action," he adds.

Following the 31 January crash of an Alaska Airlines Boeing MD-83, the FAA had threatened to bar Alaska from performing the heavy maintenance for its own fleet and third parties, which could have eventually shut it down. However, the FAA says it is "encouraged" by the carrier's action plan to rectify maintenance shortcomings discovered during an extraordinary safety audit.

Lacey says inspectors will maintain their strict oversight of Alaska for the near term to ensure that the recovery plan is fully implemented. The FAA had uncovered a large number of problems with the airline's maintenance procedures and paperwork, including unapproved maintenance practices and repairs which were being deferred.

Alaska is hiring an additional 130 mechanics, and has brought in a vice president of safety. It has also filled vacant maintenance and operations director positions, redesigned the general maintenance manual and tripled the number of quality assurance auditors.

Starting on 17 July, Lacey says that FAA inspectors will conduct similar safety audits of American Airlines, America West, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Trans World Airlines, US Airways and United Airlines. The safety experts will then selectively audit an undetermined number of all-cargo operators and smaller passenger airlines.

Source: Flight International