FAA grounds Southeast airline, alleges eight violations

The Federal Aviation Administration has shut down LAB Flying Service, one of Southeast Alaska’s most well-known flight services.

On July 24, the FAA issued an emergency order to immediately revoke the Haines-based carrier’s certificate to operate flights over safety issues.

LAB Flying Service provided charter and scheduled service to 10 locations in Southeast Alaska that included an essential air service route to Excursion Inlet in the Gastineau Channel near Juneau.

“This is devastating news to the passengers and travelers of Southeast Alaska,” said Christine Klein, deputy commissioner of Aviation for the State of Alaska Department of Transportation. “Losing a carrier in Southeast means there will be a definite shortage of air service there.” Klein is originally from the Ketchikan area of Alaska.

The FAA’s 28 page order cites seven counts in violation of eight different federal aviation regulations.

The emergency revocation order sites myriad mechanical and other infractions that include failing to operate aircraft that were not airworthy, parts failures on aircraft engines, not responding to airworthiness directives (an order that demands replacing certain aircraft or engine parts over safety issues), failure to properly report pilot records for flight times, operating aircraft in a careless or reckless manner, false reporting of required routine maintenance, and failing to inspect landing gear and brake assemblies correctly, among others.

Officials with LAB refused to comment about the allegations.

According to the FAA order, the agency shut the air carrier down as LAB was in the process of installing an engine that had been subjected to a fire on a different aircraft that was scheduled for commercial use, and doing so without testing the engine for heat damage.

LAB Flight Service is based in Haines, and was started in 1956 by Layton Bennett with 55 employees. It was Alaska’s oldest continually operating small passenger airline, according to the Directory of World Airlines.

Bennett had been awarded the FAA’s “Wright Brother’s Award,” the agency’s top award to pilots, for his operation of the airline for more than 50 years.

LAB was one of the first airlines in Southeast to pioneer the FAA’s Capstone Safety Program’s ADS-B equipment installation and use, and was a five star member of the nonprofit Medallion Safety Foundation, which works to change unsafe pilot cultures.

Mike Steadman, director of operations for Wings of Alaska, said his airline has picked up one of LAB’s scheduled destinations to Kake.

“We are making some ad-hoc flights into Kake, but no scheduled service,” said Steadman. “We are also applying for a subsidy from the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) to fly into Kake just like LAB had recently applied to do.”

According to the revocation order, LAB will have to apply for a new certificate to resume service, and has 10 days from the date of the order’s issue to appeal.

Eric Bennett, Layton Bennett’s son, took a leave of absence from his job as a pilot for Alaska Airlines this summer to address business issues at LAB, according to a receptionist with the company.

Rob Stapleton can be reached at [email protected]">[email protected].

08/02/2008 - 8:00pm