FAA Culture as Primary Enabler of Alaska Airlines Disaster

Alaska Airlines Flight 261, with 85 passengers and crew, departed Puerto Vallarta in Mexico (January 31, 2000) for Seattle. As they were passing west of Los Angeles over the Pacific Ocean, the pilots started experiencing trouble with the horizontal stabilizer. Suddenly the horizontal stabilizer moved to the extreme downward position, putting the DC-9 into a dive toward the ocean, from which it never recovered. Although the conduct at Alaska Airlines and virtually6 every other U.S. airline was nowhere as arrogant and corrupt as at United Airlines, Alaska Airlines did have problems. Those problems fed on the corrupt culture throughout the FAA segment dealing with the safety requirements of airlines.


Primary and Direct Problem at Alaska Airlines,
With Management Culture in the Background

The primary and direct problem at Alaska Airlines was in its maintenance section. And that culture resulted in inspectors passing as acceptable a major worn-out component that controls the position of the horizontal stabilizer. At the prior maintenance inspection, that jackscrew was found to be worn to where it should have been replaced. For various reasons, including possibly pressure from higher management personnel, that critical component was not replaced.

The principle inspector at Alaska Airlines, Mary Diefenderfer, had repeatedly reported dangerous maintenance practices at that airline, and suffered continual harassment from FAA management. It was so bad that she finally left the FAA. Several months later, an Alaska Airlines DC-9 plunged vertically into the ocean off the Southern California coastline. The reason? Irresponsible maintenance practices caused failure of the jackscrew that controlled the horizontal stabilizer, causing the stabilizer to go into a full down position.


NTSB Findings

A newspaper report (January 10, 2003) on the National Transportation Safety Board report stated in part:

NTSB hits Alaska’s maintenance ‘culture’ in Flight 261 report. Excerpts from John Goglia’s NTSB statement: The National Transportation Safety Board yesterday issued a scathing final report on the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 in January 2000, saying safety breakdowns at Alaska that led to the accident were “less coincidence than culture.”

“Alaska needs to re-constitute its will to performance and perfection on the shop floor,” board member John Goglia wrote in a 235-page report detailing broad findings approved by the board during a public meeting last month.

The board’s three other members concurred with his statement and, in a separate statement, said the Federal Aviation Administration should strongly consider taking a new look at Alaska in light of continuing concerns about its maintenance programs.

Among FAA inspectors that have resigned because of the corrupt culture was Mary Diefenderfer. She provided information to members of Congress, including testimony about these matters, which was then followed by the usual congressional cover-ups. Copies of several of her writings follows:


Just a Sampling of the Thousands of Preventable Crashes And
Deaths Made Possible by Corrupt Conduct

Many other aviation disasters resulting from the FAA culture are described in History of Aviation Disasters. That culture was careful omitted from the 9/11 Commission report. If that culture had been addressed, the danger existed that the many unprecedented steps that I had taken trying to halt the continuation of corruption-related crashes and deaths would have surfaced. And that would expose people in control of major U.S. government operations.


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