Some Boeing 737 NG planes reportedly have wing structure cracking. Veuer’s Natasha Abellard has the story.
The FAA is ordering airlines to inspect heavily used versions of its Boeing 737 NG models for cracks in wing supports, a move that creates another Boeing headache for carriers and potentially travelers.
The order, issued Wednesday, requires initial and periodic inspections for cracking and repairs if any cracking is found.
Though not an emergency order that will immediately ground planes, the order covers nearly 2,000 737s registered in the U.S. and represents another blow to airlines already reeling from the prolonged grounding of the newest version of the 737, the Max, after two crashes in five months.
The new order raises the prospect airlines could have to take planes out of service if cracks are found, which could lead to flight cancellations.
The FAA said just 165 of the planes covered by the order will need to be inspected within seven days. The inspections are only expected to take about an hour per plane. The remaining planes covered by the order will need to be inspected as they hit certain flight thresholds.
The FAA said the order is based on reports of cracking on multiple Boeing 737-800s as the planes were being converted from passenger service to cargo planes. If not addressed, the FAA said the impact of the cracking could “adversely affect the structural integrity of the airplane and result in loss of control of the airplane.”
The FAA’s new order focuses only on the version of the 737 called the NG, which stands for Next Generation. It is more commonly known as the Boeing 737-600, -700, -800 and -900. It was one of the most popular versions of the 737; more than 7,000 have been sold.
Its problem, unrelated to the issues that grounded the Max, involves cracks that have appeared in components that attach the wings to the fuselage on planes that have been flown a lot.
Boeing “discovered the cracks while conducting modifications on a heavily used aircraft,” the FAA said in a statement earlier this week. “Subsequent inspections uncovered similar cracks in a small number of additional planes.” The part is called a pickle fork.
Southwest Airlines, which has an all Boeing 737 fleet, has about 700 NGs.
“We are aware of the reported issue and to date, have not had any unusual findings associated with the pickle fork on our 737 NG aircraft,” spokeswoman Brandy King said in a statement earlier this week. “Once we receive additional guidance, we will fully comply with any directives requiring checks to ensure the continued safety of our aircraft.’’
King said Southwest has a team ready to implement the inspections but said based on preliminary information the airline does not anticipate any significant disruption of service.
An emergency inspection of engine fan blades after a passenger died on a Southwest flight in 2018 led to some flight cancellations by the airline.
American Airlines has 304 Boeing 737 NG aircraft in its fleet, all Boeing 737-800s, spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
“We continue to work closely with the FAA and Boeing regarding the new inspection requirements for our 737-800 fleet,” he said in a statement. “None of American’s aircraft in the 737 fleet fall into the seven day (inspection) requirement.”
Until the inspections are finished, it won’t be known exactly how many Boeing 737 NGs will need to be repaired. It’s unknown whether a repair procedure has been proposed and accepted or how long the process will take.
In any case, it’s not an issue that Boeing would have wanted to face as it continues to wrestle with its most important commercial jet issue, getting the 737 Max back in the air.
The problem in the NG and the Max are unrelated. While the NG issue involves hardware, the Max has been grounded because of problems in its cockpit software.
Pilots in the two crashes – a Lion Air flight last October and an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March – were unable to deal with an automated control system blamed for pointing the plane’s nose into the ground. That system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, was designed to make the plane handle for pilots like previous versions. But the National Transportation Safety Board, in a report last week, said that it led to cockpit confusion, contributing to the crashes.
The two accidents claimed the lives of 346 passengers and crew and led to the grounding of the 737 Max n March 13. Boeing has said it hopes to win FAA approval for the software changes and related training and have the planes flying again before the end of the year.
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