As aviation officials continue to grapple with the implications of last week’s deadly emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines flight, aviation authorities in the United States and Europe have announced new inspection procedures aimed at identifying engine fan blades that could conceivably break off in flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive to all airlines operating CFM56-7B engines, the same model as the one that failed in last week’s incident. The directive orders airlines to perform an ultrasonic inspection for cracks in the fan blade dovetail, and to remove cracked fan blades from service.
In Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has likewise called for ultrasonic inspections of CFM56-7B engine fan blades.
In a written statement Southwest Airlines reports that its existing maintenance program “meets or exceeds” the requirements laid out in the FAA directive. Immediately following last week’s accident, the airline said that it would inspect all of the engines similar to the one that failed within 30 days.
Southwest reports that the flight disruptions caused by the accelerated engine inspection program have thus far been minimal. On Sunday, the airline canceled approximately 40 flights out of 4,000 due to the inspections.
Last Tuesday one woman was killed when an engine on Southwest Flight 1380 from New York - LaGuardia to Dallas Love Field apparently broke apart, sending shrapnel flying into the cabin, blowing a hole in the window and partially sucking her outside. While the full investigation won’t likely be completed for 12 to 15 months, officials are focusing on the possibility that metal fatigue caused one of the engine’s fan blades to snap off, slamming into the engine housing and generating the flying shrapnel, as occurred in a similar incident on a Southwest Airlines flight in August 2016.