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FAA Issues Landing Gear Warning

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Inadequate maintenance work by a third-party contractor in Miami may have led to the collapse of the landing gear on a Boeing 757 operated by US Airways (LCC), a Federal Aviation Administration investigation indicates.

On Oct. 28, 2007, as roughly 20,000 pounds of jet fuel was loaded onto Tampa-bound Flight 1753, the left landing gear collapsed under the weight of the fuel.

The plane was parked at a gate at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, waiting to depart with 195 passengers aboard. No one was injured, but the incident raised serious questions. Had the gear collapsed under weight at a different time, such as when the aircraft was landing, the outcome might have been far worse.

"We were one landing away from a disaster," says John Goglia, a maintenance safety consultant who is a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board and a former US Airways mechanic.

The FAA, the NTSB and US Airways all investigated the incident. Immediately afterwards, US Airways inspected the landing gear on five other 757s that had gear work performed by the same vendor. "We replaced some of the truck beams based on the indicators we were using," says US Airways spokesman Phil Gee.

The truck beam is the main component of the landing gear. Installed as if it were an upside-down T, the truck beam consists of a horizontal bar that connects the front and rear axles. The vertical bar acts as a shock absorber. The FAA's notice refers to an enamel paint applied to the inside, or "bore," of the horizontal bar.

Last week, in a notice to airlines, maintenance shops and others, the FAA warned that Miami-based AAR Landing Gear Services had improperly maintained the truck beam on the main landing gear in about 350 cases between Jan. 1, 2001, and Nov. 26, 2007. The gear is used on the Boeing 707, 747, 757 and 767, but it was unclear how many had been installed.

An Issue of Paint

Wood Dale, Ill.-based AAR (AIR), the parent of the Miami firm, disputes the FAA's finding, saying that it followed an acceptable procedure in its landing gear maintenance and that, in any case, its work did not lead to the Charlotte landing gear failure. Shares of AAR sank 4.2% to $26.12 on the FAA advisory.

The FAA notice does not name the operators of the 350 aircraft, but the US Airways 757 on which the gear collapsed is included, a source said. "Evidence indicates AAR landing gear services approved truck beams for return to service that were not maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's maintenance manuals," the notice said.

The FAA found that to service the interior of the horizontal bar, AAR coated it with a type of gray enamel paint that is not authorized in the maintenance manual. But AAR says that after the notice was issued, it asked Boeing (BA) to review its procedures, and Boeing was satisfied that it did nothing improper.

Boeing "finds that although we prefer the finish application as currently called out, the alternate finish application ... should be considered equivalent," AAR said, in a prepared statement.

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