U.S. FAA issues emergency directive for extra inspections of several Boeing 737 modelsApril 5th, 2011 - 3:27 pm ICT by BNO News
WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday issued an emergency directive that will require operators of several Boeing 737 models to conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage.
The directive is the result after an incident on Friday on Southwest Airlines flight 812, a Boeing 737-300. The aircraft suffered a rapid decompression and declared an emergency while a hole in the top of the aircraft, approximately mid-cabin, was clearly visible.
The captain of the aircraft immediately carried out a rapid but controlled descent from 36,000 feet to 11,000 feet when the incident occurred, and oxygen masks were deployed. A total of 118 passengers and 5 crew members were on board, and the plane safely landed at Yuma International Airport in Arizona. It was originally scheduled to fly from Phoenix, Arizona to Sacramento, California.
As a result of the incident, Southwest Airlines decided to ground 79 aircraft which are in the same sub-fleet of Boeing 737s for inspections, resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights throughout the weekend and Monday. By Tuesday morning, the Dallas-based airline had found small, subsurface cracks in two other Boeing 737-300s.
The FAA directive issued on Tuesday will require initial inspections using electromagnetic, or eddy-current, technology in specific areas of the aircraft fuselage on certain Boeing 737 aircraft in the -300, -400 and -500 series that have accumulated more than 30,000 flight cycles. It will then require repetitive inspections at regular intervals.
Initially, the FAA said, this action will apply to a total of approximately 175 aircraft around the world, 80 of which are U.S.-registered aircraft. Nearly all of those aircraft in the U.S. are operated by Southwest Airlines, which were already undergoing inspections as a result of the incident.
“Safety is our number one priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation.”
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the FAA has programs in place to protect commercial planes from structural damage as they age. “This action is designed to detect cracking in a specific part of the aircraft that cannot be spotted with visual inspection,” he said.
Last November, the FAA also published a rule designed specifically to address widespread fatigue damage in aging aircraft. The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to establish a number of flight cycles or hours a plane can operate and be free from fatigue damage. The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to incorporate the limits into their maintenance programs.
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