The chief executive of Alaska Airlines yesterday ordered a complete inspection of all 26 of the airline's MD-80 series planes to determine...

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The chief executive of Alaska Airlines yesterday ordered a complete inspection of all 26 of the airline’s MD-80 series planes to determine whether their jackscrew assemblies were properly lubricated.

In a written statement, Alaska CEO Bill Ayer said he was taking the action after The Seattle Times reported yesterday that three Alaska mechanics said they had found no grease on the jackscrew of an MD-83 they inspected during an overnight check Jan. 10. The same problem led to the fatal crash of Flight 261 nearly six years ago.

Alaska has disputed the mechanics’ report, saying there was no evidence to support their allegations.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it was opening a full inquiry into the Jan. 10 incident, as well as a second jackscrew incident last week that raised additional questions.

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The jackscrew is a key component in the tail section of MD-80 series jets, controlling the plane’s angle of flight.

Flight 261 crashed off the Southern California coast Jan. 31, 2000, killing all 88 people aboard, after threads on the MD-83’s jackscrew sheared off due to lack of grease and excessive wear, federal investigators found.

The FAA inquiry will include an examination of Alaska’s maintenance procedures and training programs.

Ayer said yesterday, “We plan to fully cooperate and provide whatever information the FAA may require in conducting their inquiry.

“Allegations that maintenance procedures have not been properly followed are extremely serious to us, especially as they relate to jackscrew lubrication,” Ayer said.

In his statement, which was posted on the company’s in-house Web site, Ayer said he was confident the FAA investigation will affirm Alaska’s compliance with FAA directives and the airline’s safety procedures.

“Nevertheless, I am asking our Maintenance and Engineering Division to inspect our entire MD-80 fleet to ensure proper jackscrew lubrication,” Ayer said.

He did not directly comment on Alaska’s earlier assertions that the jackscrew cited in the Jan. 10 incident was lubricated.

The last inspection before Jan. 10 occurred in November at AAR Aircraft Services in Oklahoma City, where Alaska outsources a portion of its major maintenance work.

A spokesman for AAR said the jackscrew was properly lubricated during that check.

Last week, one of the mechanics involved in the Jan. 10 inspection questioned whether the jackscrew of another plane had been properly lubricated.

He ultimately determined the jackscrew had been greased, but it was removed and replaced when he heard an unfamiliar noise while checking it for wear, according to the union that represents Alaska mechanics.

The FAA inquiry will include a review of that incident.

Alaska said that in both instances, the jackscrews showed no sign of excessive wear and were released in a safe condition.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or