Beleaguered planemaker Boeing is facing up to another challenge as the issues with its narrowbody 737 NG continue to build. Following inspections of the type, cracks to the pickle forks have now been found in more areas, prompting the FAA to instruct a wider inspection area of the type.
A blow for Boeing
Boeing just can’t seem to get a break. Amid the grounding of its flagship narrowbody 737 MAX, the planemaker is now dealing with increasingly frequent issues with the previous model of the type, the 777NG.
Following inspections of aircraft with a high number of flight cycles, several have been identified to be suffering with pickle fork cracks. However, as more airlines carried out routine inspections, it became clear that the issue was not just affecting those with the highest flight cycles. Qantas and Lion Air both discovered the issue in aircraft much younger than originally thought to be impacted.
Now, the situation has turned again for the worst, as Reuters is reporting that the FAA has instructed the inspection area to be widened, as some cracks have been found in other places.
Cracks in adjacent locations
Boeing has revealed this week that, following the first round of inspections on the type, some cracks had been found in areas adjacent to the original region of concern. On Tuesday the planemaker said that one aircraft had been found to have cracking in a new area, and as such has asked operators to inspect adjacent areas too.
In a statement provided to Reuters, Boeing said,
“The additional inspections are already underway. We regret the impact to our customers and have a repair plan in place to address any findings.”
So far, some 1,200 aircraft have been inspected for cracks. Of these, just 5% have been found to have a problem. However, the cracking in the additional area has so far been found in four separate jets.
FAA expands inspection area
The FAA has issued a notice which instructs airlines to expand the inspection area to eight fasteners. Following on from the October notice, airlines with 737 NGs that have operated more than 30,000 cycles must be inspected within 60 days. Those with between 22,600 and 30,000 cycles need to be inspected within the next 1,000 cycles. These inspections must now include the expanded area as defined by the FAA.
Southwest Airlines told Bloomberg that it is voluntarily inspecting every single 737 NG in its fleet. It previously found three aircraft with cracking which have been taken out of service pending repair. American Airlines too is inspecting all its 737-800s, although none are over the 30,000 cycle threshold. Neither of the airlines expect these inspections to affect service.
However, the question still remains whether the FAA will expand the inspections to include the rest of the 737 NG fleet. Lion Air’s discovery of cracks on two 737 NGs with less than 22,000 cycles suggests that the problem may be more widespread than initially thought. With almost 9,000 of the type in operation around the world, that’s a whole lot of planes to check out.
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