FAA orders inspections of older, well used 737s

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted April 4 at 4:37 p.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency safety directive calling for stepped-up structural inspections affecting three older versions of Boeing Co.’s workhorse 737 jetliners, in the wake of the 5-foot fuselage rupture on a Southwest Airlines Co. flight last Friday.

The FAA ordered “initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage” of certain older Boeing 737-300, 737-400 and 737-500 models.

In addition to inspections of Southwest’s fleet of about 80 Southwest Boeing 737-300s — which the airline said may finish as early as Tuesday morning — the FAA wants operators of about 100 other older Boeing 737s worldwide to complete the same inspections. The checks will focus on certain areas of the fuselage that have not beenĀ  subjected to such detailed inspections.

At the same time, Boeing said it is “preparing a service bulletin that will recommend lap-joint inspections on certain 737-300/-400/-500 airplanes.”

Taken together, the two moves indicate heightened concern by industry and government safety experts about the hazards of subsurface cracks, which can develop and grow under the aluminum skins of certain early 737s. The worry is that such cracks, which haven’t been a major focus of previous inspection procedures, can cause the type of in-flight event suffered by the Southwest jet.

The FAA airworthiness directive, among other things, requires inspections of aircraft in the same general area of the fuselage thatĀ  opened on the Southwest jet.

It covers planes that have accumulated more than 30,000 landings and takeoffs. Such planes typically would be considered in the middle of their anticipated service lives, though the limit is slightly lower than the number of takeoffs and landings made by the Southwest jet before Friday’s incident.

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