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US Boeing 737 inspections ordered by FAA to look for wing support cracks

01:20  03 october  2019
01:20  03 october  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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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.

U.S. FAA requiring inspections for cracks on some 737 NG planes

  U.S. FAA requiring inspections for cracks on some 737 NG planes U.S. FAA requiring inspections for cracks on some 737 NG planes

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."

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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 only flies Boeing 737s, has about 700 NGs in its fleet. The airline said it began inspecting the planes on Tuesday and will fully comply with the FAA order in the time frames the agency has laid out.

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Southwest has not yet disclosed how many of its Boeing 737-700 and 737-800s will be impacted by the order, including the number that will have to be inspected within a week.

Spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline plans to perform overnight inspections on the impacted planes and, as a result, does not expect "any customer impacts or disruptions to our operations.'' Southwest does not operate late-night flights, including red-eye flights.

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.”

United said none of its Boeing 737 NGs fall within the category would require inspections in the next week but 80 have enough flight hours that they will need to be inspected in the second phase, spokesman Frank Benenati said.

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The airline does not expect any impact to its operation.

Delta Air Lines has 200 737 NGs in its fleet, about 50 of which fall under the FAA's order. None of the 50 has enough flight hours to require inspection in the next seven days, spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

He said the inspections on those plans, as they hit certain flight thresholds, will be done during routine maintenance and will not result in any impact to the operation.

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.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boeing 737 inspections ordered by FAA to look for wing support cracks

Boeing says cracks found on 38 of 810 737 NG jets inspected globally .
Boeing says cracks found on 38 of 810 737 NG jets inspected globallyThe planes will be grounded until the repairs are made, Boeing and airline officials said. Nearly 5% of inspections have found cracks in a "pickle fork" -- a part that attaches the plane's fuselage, or body, to the wing structure and manages forces.

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