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FAA defends response to Allegiant 2015 rudder jam

A Federal Aviation Administration investigator had recommended the "maximum" sanction against AAR following the 2015 jam of an elevator on an Allegiant Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83, according to a recently-publicised FAA report.

The FAA, however, ultimately decided against that recommendation, choosing instead to issue AAR a "letter of correction".

The agency still insists it took the right course of action – a course agreed upon after thorough review by multiple staffers, and a course that ensured Allegiant "took appropriate steps to correct the root cause of the incident", says the FAA in a statement.

Likewise, MRO provider AAR says it made several changes following the letter of correction.

But the newly-released FAA report, made public by the Tampa Bay Times, shows the significant degree to which the inspector deemed sanctions to be warranted against AAR, a company the inspector describes as having a "culture of disregard".

"I recommend maximum sanction be imposed for each FAR violation identified, in addition I recommend that a sanction be added for each of the 216 flights that were flown in violation," says a report written by FAA inspector Carlos Flores.

"It is simply fortuitous to the airline passengers and crew aboard the 216 subsequent Allegiant Air revenue flights that the nut did not fall off the rod end in flight," he adds.

Flores was the investigator into the 17 August 2015 aborted takeoff from Las Vegas of an Allegiant MD-83 (registration N407NV).

The pilots aborted takeoff after the aircraft's nose rotated prematurely. The nose remained high even though the pilots' pushed the yoke forward, the report notes. The aircraft safely came to a stop.

The FAA said in 2015 that a missing nut on a component that moves the elevator had come off, causing the elevator to jam.

"Had the nut fallen off while the aircraft was actually flying, or had the crew not aborted the takeoff, the maintenance and inspection complacent actions performed by AAR… would have resulted in an aircraft flying without the ability to control its pitch attitude," says Flores' report.

Prior to the incident, MRO shop AAR had serviced the elevator, transferring the bolt to a new boost cylinder, and installing that cylinder on the aircraft on 23 May 2015, according to Flores' report.

Evidence indicates the nut was not properly torqued and that technicians failed to install a cotter pin designed to keep the nut from coming loose, Flores writes.

Flores' report alleges that AAR employees failed to make required entries on maintenance forms, indicating "required inspection items… were also not inspected".

"The action of AAR… personnel borders on careless (and possibly reckless) conduct," writes Flores.

"I believe there is a culture of disregard based on the inadequate managerial oversight," Flores says of AAR.

Allegiant operated the aircraft on several hundred flights before the bolt came off, causing the aborted takeoff on 17 August 2015, says the report

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The FAA's Flores also alleges shortcomings by Allegiant, writing that the company "should also have been able to identify the maintenance error by providing more oversight".

The FAA, having reviewed Flores' report, determined not to fine the carrier but to issue a "letter of correction" – a reflection of the agency's "new compliance philosophy".

In 2015 the agency introduced its "compliance philosophy" as a means to encourage airline-government collaboration and "self-disclosure" by airlines of errors, says the FAA's website. Core to the change has been emphasis on using "non-enforcement" measures to ensure companies address problems.

The FAA's 15 May statement says safety oversight is its "most-important mission", adding that inspectors who discover a regulatory violations aim to correct the violation and "put in place the best strategy to ensure lasting compliance".

The agency also says the letter of correct was the right response.

Following the rejected takeoff in 2015, AAR took several corrective actions, the FAA notes.

The company conducted immediate safety meetings to ensure all staff were aware of what occurred, required a third inspector to review all work performed on flight controls, landing gear and engines, and ensuring work orders receive a third inspection, says the FAA.

In addition, AAR, revised "software to allow personnel to work on flight-critical tasks only after they have completed required training", says the FAA.

"Inspectors and managers from several offices in the FAA safety oversight division carefully reviewed all of these actions and agreed that AAR… took appropriate steps to correct the root cause of the incident," says the FAA.

It adds that Allegiant has increased the number of company inspectors at AAR's facility from two to at least eight, and as many as 12.

"Furthermore, as part of the FAA’s wide-ranging review of Allegiant’s operations in the spring of 2016, FAA inspectors thoroughly scrutinised AAR’s policies and procedures to ensure that the repair station was continuing to comply with the regulations," says the FAA.

AAR says it worked closely with the FAA to address issues, citing many of the changes highlighted by the FAA.

"We work tirelessly to improve" safety, says AAR.

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