FAA Orders Closer Engine Inspections After Southwest Airlines FailureApril 20, 2018
The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued an emergency order instructing airlines with the same type of engine as the one that failed catastrophically on Tuesday on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to more thoroughly inspect the engines’ fan blades.
The agency told airlines to use ultrasonic inspections — which can detect flaws or cracks not visible to the unaided human eye — within the next 20 days to fan blades on engines with more than 30,000 cycles. A cycle includes an engine start, takeoff, landing and shutdown.
The F.A.A.’s order came shortly after the manufacturer of the engines, CFM International, issued guidelines for the ultrasonic inspections. CFM, a joint venture of General Electric and the French company Safran Aircraft Engines, recommended that fan blades with 20,000 cycles be inspected by the end of August. It also recommended inspections of all other fan blades when they reach 20,000 cycles, and repeating the inspections every 3,000 cycles, which, it said, “represents about two years in service.”
The F.A.A. said it was acting because it determined that fan blade cracking “is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.”
The agency’s order does not address those lesser-used engines, but said it was “considering further rule making to address these differences.” Airlines are not legally bound to follow a company’s guidelines. They are bound by the F.A.A. directive.
In the past two years, two Southwest Airlines 737s have had major engine failures that seemed to be the result of metal fatigue, according to evidence compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board. In both episodes, the first in 2016 and the one on Tuesday, fan blades in the planes’ engines broke apart, sending shrapnel into the plane’s body. On Tuesday, debris broke through one of cabin windows, and one passenger died as a result.
After the 2016 incident, CFM advised airlines to perform ultrasonic inspections. The Federal Aviation Administration deemed the episode serious enough to explore imposing a new regulation — a process that was underway at the time of the failure on Tuesday.
CFM said about 14,000 engines currently in service are covered by the new inspection guidelines. Of those, it said, about 680 have at least 30,000 cycles. More than 150 of those engines have been inspected since the most recent episode, CFM said.
The company said it was providing about 500 technicians to support the accelerated inspection schedule. It estimated that an ultrasonic inspection takes about four hours per engine.