The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday proposed a $600,775 civil penalty against Alaska Airlines for violating regulations requiring pilots and other flight crew members to undergo regular ground training and training in handling emergencies and hazardous materials.
It is one of the largest civil penalties the FAA has ever proposed, although typically the aviation safety agency settles for less than it proposes. American Airlines, "under protest," paid $500,000 in civil penalties for maintenance violations stemming from the investigation of the Chicago DC10 crash that killed 273 people in 1979; Braniff Airways paid $400,000 to settle a variety of issues with the FAA in 1978 and 1979.
Alaska Airlines is the nation's 21st largest carrier. It serves 50 cities in Alaska and connects them with Seattle, Portland, Ore., and airports in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.
The violations were detected during the FAA's nationwide inspection of airlines early last year. A follow-up investigation produced the 1 1/2-inch thick listing of specifics that accompanied the FAA's penalty letter to the airline.
Gus Robinson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Alaska Airlines, said yesterday, "I haven't had time to study the whole thing. We have 15 days to respond; we will ask for a hearing and present our mitigating facts."
He said that some of the airline's "records were incomplete . . . . It was all corrected within three days. It took me that long to find all the pilots. Obviously I had a discrepancy and had to do something about it."
Charles R. Foster, administrator of the FAA's Northwest Mountain Region in Seattle, said in an interview that the airline "has been very cooperative." However, he said, "I think it's damn serious when people don't know their job. I'm just saying they are a good airline and they really got out of line here."
The FAA's letter said that all the violations involved crew members not receiving required training "within the preceding 12 calendar months." Seventy-nine crew members did not receive ground training; 54 did not receive emergency training and 90 did not receive training in handling hazardous materials. Pilots are required by federal aviation regulations to receive refresher courses in a number of subjects on an annual basis.
The maximum penalty the FAA can levy for a single violation is $1,000. However, each time a plane flies with a crew member who has not met the training requirements, a violation occurs. The FAA said that in this case there were about 4,000 violations over a three-month period last year, creating a theoretical penalty potential of $4 million.
In its letter to the airline, the FAA said, "After having considered all the circumstances in this case, we would be willing to accept an offer in compromise in the amount of $600,775 in full settlement."
The civil penalty comes as the FAA is trying to beef up its enforcement visibility because of concerns that federal deregulation might tempt some airlines to cut corners. The most visible recent enforcement actions have been against small commuter airlines. The FAA has temporarily grounded three such airlines in the past two months.