FAA seeks additional inspections of 737s
Jan. 2, 2013, Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered additional inspections of Boeing 737-300, 737-400 and 737-500 series aircraft in order to detect and rectify cracks along the top of the fuselage.
Currently, the FAA requires regular inspections to identify cracking of the crown area of the fuselage skin, and the implementation of corrective measures if a problem is detected.
The new order, which expands this requirement, requires the inspection of new areas and the use of various methods such as optical imaging and ultrasonic testing to detect microscopic cracks without dismantling an entire plane.
The FAA's directive is in response to an incident in July 2009, which forced a Boeing 737-300 operated by the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines to make an emergency landing after a football-sized hole was detected on top of the fuselage.
The airworthiness directive comes into effect from February 6 and states for inspections on 109 aircraft, with the majority operated by Southwest Airlines.
As of 30 September 2012, Southwest Airlines operated a fleet of 136 737-300s and 20 737-500 aircraft.
FAA estimates that the cost of inspecting 109 older 737s would be about $5.2 million or $17,765 per aircraft for the operators.
However, the agency noted that it was unclear how many aircraft operated by Southwest would be affected by the new inspection requirements as the carrier was retiring some of the ageing aircraft.
Boeing spokesman Miles Kotay was quoted by the USA Today as saying that this was a part of the process through which aircraft manufacturers, operators and regulators work together to ensure the safety of the world's jetliner.
The FAA has reported no incidents involving the similar issues since 2009 and Boeing has completed a number of inspections worldwide, Kotay added.
In April 2011, another Southwest jetliner made an emergency landing in Yuma, Arizona due to cracking in a different type of joint where aluminium panels overlapped, according to FAA.