Yesterday, news emerged that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued an order for airlines to inspect their Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG) aircraft after the manufacturer alerted it to a cracking issue last week. The component where these cracks have been found are known as “pickle forks”.
BREAKING: Cracks found in critical part (called a pickle fork) that keeps wing attached to 737-NG (not MAX) fuselage. One found earlier in month, now more on other planes. Found early in plane’s lifespan. Boe & FAA scrambling to find extent of problem. @KOMONewsradio #KOMONews pic.twitter.com/iRT4luL5FW
— Charlie Harger (@KOMOCharlie) September 27, 2019
“Dire results” if the system fails
“Boeing notified the agency of the matter after it discovered the cracks while conducting modifications on a heavily used aircraft. Subsequent inspections uncovered similar cracks in a small number of additional planes. The FAA will instruct operators to conduct specific inspections, make any necessary repairs and to report their findings to the agency immediately,”
Pickle forks are the component that attach the plane’s body to its wing structure. In fact, they help to “manage the stress, torque and aerodynamic forces that bend the connection between the wings and the body of the jet”.
According to KOMO News, pickle forks are “designed to last more than 90,000 landings and takeoffs without cracking…and there could be dire results if the system fails”. A retired Boeing engineer who asked to remain anonymous tells KOMO that the issue is especially concerning as it was found relatively early in the plane’s service:
“It’s unusual to have a crack in the pickle fork. It’s not designed to crack that way at all. Period.”
Boeing’s handling of the situation
Another source tells KOMO News that Boeing was quick to report the issue to the FAA last week. In fact, what started with the finding in a single plane has led to the discovery of similar cracking in other aircraft.
“Safety and quality are our top priorities. Boeing has notified the FAA and been in contact with 737NG operators about a cracking issue discovered on a small number of airplanes undergoing modifications. No in-service issues have been reported. Over the coming days, we will work closely with our customers to implement a recommended inspection plan for certain airplanes in the fleet. This issue does not affect any 737 MAX airplanes or the P-8 Poseidon,”
A source familiar with the issue tells KOMO that there is definitely some urgency with this issue:
“A crack like this is similar to when you see a crack in a coffee cup handle…You can likely continue using the cup several more times, but there’s always a risk that handle will break off and hot coffee will wind up in your lap.”
According to sources, the Boeing 737 has four pickle forks as part of its structure and repair will be extensive. Therefore, the source goes on to say, that addressing this issue will require the removal and replacement of the pickle fork fitting.
If this issue is found in more aircraft it has the potential to severely impact many airline schedules. The 737 Next Gen is part of many fleets all over the world. However, budget carrier Ryanair is an airline that might be disproportionately affected as it is one of the largest operators of 737-800s in the world, according to Wikipedia. This comes at a time when Boeing 737 MAX planes remain grounded, further affecting the operational capacity of airlines.