The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that it will issue an emergency directive tomorrow that will require operators of specific early Boeing 737 models to conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage. This action will initially apply to a total of approximately 175 aircraft worldwide, 80 of which are U.S.-registered aircraft, the FAA said. Most of the aircraft in the U.S. are operated by Southwest Airlines, FAA noted.
“Safety is our no. 1 priority,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, referring to an incident where a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 encountered damage to its surface while in flight. “Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation.”
No fatalities were reported and Southwest promptly launched an inspection of its entire fleet of 737 aircraft.
“The FAA has comprehensive programs in place to protect commercial aircraft from structural damage as they age,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “This action is designed to detect cracking in a specific part of the aircraft that cannot be spotted with visual inspection.”
The FAA airworthiness directive 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.
Last November, the FAA noted that it 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.