The Federal Aviation Administration recommended Monday a nearly $1 million fine against Alaska Airlines for sloppy maintenance and flying planes with inoperative equipment that had not been properly repaired.
Part of the fine was levied for flying one plane that had problems with an important navigational instrument and for flying another on hundreds of flights without a flight data recorder, which is a critical aid to air crash investigators.
The agency said that most of the deficiencies were unearthed last spring during an audit ordered as questions mounted about Alaska's maintenance procedures following the Jan. 31 crash of Flight 261 off the Southern California coast .
Questions about the airline's maintenance operations first were raised in 1998 when a grand jury began looking into allegations of falsified records and incomplete repairs at Alaska's Oakland, Calif., facility.
In March, 64 Alaska mechanics signed a letter to the company, alleging that a supervisor had pressured them into substandard work. Some mechanics later told the Los Angeles Times that several jets had been returned to service despite their concerns that further repairs might be needed. The allegations did not involve the plane that crashed. Hearings will be held in Washington next week as the National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation of the accident that killed all 88 on board the twin-engine jetliner.
While the cause of the crash has yet to be determined officially, the probe has focused for months on a mechanism in the plane's tail that largely controls the pitch of the jetliner's nose. Wreckage showed that the mechanism had not been lubricated adequately.
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