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FAA fines Northwest for poor repairs 'Unairworthy condition' prompts $375,000 penalty


The Federal Aviation Administration proposed yesterday a $375,000 fine against Northwest Airlines for operating a DC-9 jet in "unairworthy condition" for 12 days in July 1997.

The agency acted after pilots who flew the plane after a repair on a wing support reported on three occasions that they encountered difficulty controlling the jet on final approach and landing.

The FAA said it learned that maintenance crews examined the plane and returned it to service three times before the problem was caught and corrected. The problem stemmed from an improperly reinstalled cable. Under certain conditions, the cable would tighten more than it was supposed to, affecting the controls.

Northwest flew the jet on 74 flights during the period before the plane was taken out of service and a team of Northwest's experts was called in.

Northwest spokesman Jon Austin called the problem "anomalous" but "one that we take very seriously." The experts discovered what Austin called an "extremely subtle" mistake in the wing cables and corrected it.

It could not be learned if passengers on any of the flights noticed the problems during landings. Northwest planes are routinely routed to cities across the country, Austin said, so the plane probably landed at Detroit Metro Airport during those 12 days, but he could not confirm it.

Northwest has 15 days to reply to the penalty notice.

Such monetary fines proposed by the FAA for maintenance failures are common although usually not for the amount in this case. This year, the FAA has announced 44 penalties of $50,000 or more.

Northwest, with headquarters near Minneapolis/St. Paul, is the nation's fourth-largest airline.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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