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Saturday Morning News

Another MD-80 Reports In-Flight Problems

Aired February 12, 2000 - 9:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story this morning, another MD-80 commercial aircraft reported a problem while in flight late yesterday. The TWA aircraft landed at its destination in Phoenix without incident but had to be towed to the terminal. The pilot had radioed the airport that the plane was having hydraulic problems. The airport says the plane made an emergency landing, but TWA says there was no emergency and that the hydraulic problem was minor.

In any event, federal officials have found reason for concern among the MD-80 series of aircraft.

CNN's Carl Rochelle explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As many as six additional planes from Delta, American, Northwest, Continental, and possibly other airlines have been pulled out of service because of potential problems with horizontal stabilizers, aviation sources told CNN.

This follows the discovery earlier this week in two Alaska Airlines jets of metal strips and filings in the jackscrew assemblies, a part of the horizontal stabilizer. That discovery prompted the FAA to issue an emergency order requiring all 1,100 MD-80 series planes in the United States to be inspected within three days.

LEE DICKINSON, FORMER NTSB OFFICIAL: I think the prudent thing for them to do is to examine both the gimbal nut and the jackscrew and look at both of those from both those airplanes and compare that with what we know or what the safety board will be finding from the accident aircraft.

ROCHELLE: Navy salvage workers made a significant find from the crash site of Alaska Air flight 261 Friday, recovering large portions of the right and left elevators and an eight-foot section of the right stabilizer. They will be brought to Washington for analysis, along with a gimbal nut.

NTSB engineers say the nut, which works along with the jackscrew to control the stabilizer trim, had severe damage to its threads.

Sources familiar with the investigation suspect the damage occurred in flight or was made worse in the process of the crew trying to deal with the jammed stabilizer trim. But the safety board says it still cannot say for sure whether the damage occurred in flight or during the crash.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROCHELLE: Passengers have experienced few delays because of the inspections so far, but, of course, that could change if the problems appear to be more widespread. Now, the FAA has given the airlines until the end of the weekend to finish inspecting all of the MD-80 aircraft. Any aircraft that isn't inspected by then, of course, would have to be taken out of service until the inspection is completed.

As of last evening, the National Transportation Safety Board said they had sent investigators on five accidents, had indications of about three more. The numbers are a bit fluid out there. We believe it's in the neighborhood of about six, possibly a few more, possibly a few less.

But what they're finding, Miles, is potential problems. But in at least several of the cases that we know of, they have found metal filings in and around that jackscrew assembly and metal powder-like that had worn off of it.

And I talked to engineers at Boeing yesterday, and they said, yes, the nut is designed for a certain amount of wear, but not the kind of wear that produces metal filings cutting out of it. That would be unusual, and that would be extraordinary and should not be done.

I'm Carl Rochelle, CNN, reporting live from Washington.

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