September 21, 2020

Other Carriers Follow Southwest and Inspect 737s

The incident, involving a Boeing 737-300, led federal aviation authorities to require inspections of at least 175 of the older Boeing planes after every 500 flights until the problems are better understood. Boeing, the manufacturer, has also recommended that airlines inspect the areas where the skin covers joints on the older 737 models.

In response, Southwest, which operates most of the affected planes in service in the United States, has inspected at least 79 aircraft and found minor subsurface cracks in five 737s.

On Wednesday, foreign carriers said they were following suit. Scandinavian Airlines said it would inspect four Boeing 737-500s, which while not the same model, were made during the same period as the Southwest jet. The British low cost bmibaby airline will inspect three 737s by April 7, a representative told the B.B.C.

Lufthansa, the German carrier, is inspecting three Boeing 737-300s. Martin Riecken, the director of corporate communications, said the planes, which are in service in Europe, had undergone checks over the weekend but would be inspected again in the next few days.

“They are going to be tested in our own facilities,” Mr. Riecken said. “We are using the ground times.”

The South Korean government has ordered Asiana Airlines and its affiliated budget carrier, Air Busan, to inspect their 737 fleets, according to a report in The Korea Times.

And Japan’s government ordered domestic airlines to inspect early model 737s, a total of 46 planes flown by Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and two smaller carriers, a transportation ministry official, Hideki Chiba, said. The official said five of the planes had exceeded 35,000 flights and must be inspected within five days, The Associated Press reported.

The flights, referred to as cycles, were fewer than the 39,000 reached by the Southwest Airlines plane in Friday’s incident.

The number of flights has attracted scrutiny in the aftermath of Friday’s incident because Boeing said that many of its older 737 jets were prone to metal fatigue much sooner than it had expected.

Paul Richter, a senior Boeing engineer, said during a conference call that the company had thought the jets would not be vulnerable to serious cracks in their skin until “much, much later,” and that it was surprised that its safety projections were so far off the mark.

Mr. Richter said Boeing had expected the aluminum skin and the supporting joints on the planes to last through 60,000 cycles of takeoffs and landings before airlines need to be concerned about cracks. But the Southwest jet had nearly 40,000 cycles, according to federal regulators.

Boeing’s stark admissions underscored how regulators and industry officials were struggling to understand the broader ramifications of the accident.

And analysts said the problems could eventually lead to more extensive inspections of a wider variety of aging planes.

Southwest has been buffeted by questions about how intensely it operates its planes. But in describing how surprised Boeing was by the accident, Mr. Richter came to the defense of the airline, Boeing’s largest customer.

Noting that Southwest operates more 737s than any other airline, Mr. Richter said he thought its involvement in the accident “was just a statistical event far more than anything to do with Southwest and how they operate the aircraft.”

But the new information about how soon the fatigue set in raised concerns among aviation safety experts about how much progress the industry had made on such issues, which burst into view when a large section of the roof of a 737 flown by Aloha Airlines ripped open in 1988 and a flight attendant was sucked out of the plane.

John J. Goglia, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1995 to 2004, said the Southwest incident again highlighted a problem with older aircraft that endured tens of thousands of pressurization cycles.

Christopher Drew and Jad Mouawad contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b0f03d649c22e1203e88fc7eb4760d11

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