Which Airlines Have Grounded Cracked Boeing 737s?

Earlier this month the world awoke to the news that hairline cracks had been found on older third-generation Boeing 737 aircraft. Now that engineers have had time to assess the damage and go over fleets with a fine-toothed comb, we can see which airlines have had to ground 737 aircraft.

737
Southwest Boeing 737. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

What is the issue?

During a regular inspection of an older Indonesian Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-800 with over 30,000 flight cycles, engineers discovered pickle fork cracks. The pickle fork refers to the part of the aircraft that attaches the main fuselage of the plane to its wing structure, playing a key role in maintaining and managing the integrity of the aircraft.

As it is rather alarming that an aircraft might have cracks along its body, the FAA and Boeing decided to do a full inspection of all the Boeing 737 NG (Next Generation, or known as the third generation 737, the series before the Boeing 737 MAX) aircraft with over 30,000 flight cycles.

Safety and quality are Boeing’s top priorities. Boeing notified the FAA of this issue and has been actively engaged with our 737NG customers globally in a plan to support the required inspections.” – Boeing Statement

Whilst this led to a few more groundings, the situation didn’t heat up until airlines started to do their own inspections on aircraft with below 30,000 cycles. In fact, one or two Boeing 737 NG aircraft with only 22,500 cycles were discovered to have the issue.

Thus a range of different airlines are now grounding 737 NG aircraft, as they move them into servicing by Boeing trained technicians.

qantas-boeing-737-cracks
Qantas has gone over their fleet looking for these cracks. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Which airlines have had to ground aircraft?

So far we know the following airlines have had to ground 737 aircraft after discovering pickle fork cracks.

Qantas currently has three Boeing 737-800s grounded but has said they have finished inspecting the rest of their fleet. Rival Australian carrier Virgin Australia has said none of their 737 fleet is affected by this issue.

Korean Air has been ordered by the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) to ground five of their aircraft with the cracks. They were quickly followed by three from Jin Air, and one from Jeju Air.

But it seems that the cracks problem is also present in European carrier Ryanair, with the airline taking two 737s out of action for repairs.

Ryanair, BALPA Strike, Pilot Strike
The 737 NG is a popular aircraft all over the world. Photo: Ryanair

In the USA, Southwest, the biggest operator of the type in the world, has had to ground two of their aircraft. Gol, the Brazillian carrier, has not fared so well, having to ground 11 aircraft for this issue.

There might be a few other airlines affected by the issue, but so far that’s all the airlines that have been reported.

“Just over 1,000 airplanes have reached the inspection threshold, with less than 5 percent having findings that will need repair. However, we are not providing a list of customers impacted.”

What do you think? Will these airlines be able to make do in the meantime? Let us know in the comments.

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Peter

If a critical load-bearing part like the pickle fork is starting to fail well before it should be, then one wonders if there are any other prematurely failing parts on the 737 NG. This isn’t very comforting for all of us who regularly fly on NGs…it’s like a repeat of the metal fatigue on the Comet, just waiting to reveal itself…

Joyce

It is very concerning, indeed, especially since cracks were found in some of these planes at levels significantly less than 30,000. Your mention of the Comet metal fatigue issue sends chills down my spine.

Phixer

The question is “what happened during structural testing?” 30,000 cycles is way too low for a short-haul airliner which probably has a book life of 60,000 flights.

John

Stick a fork in Boring, the 737 should be done.

Norm

The best remedy for anyone not wanting to take the risk of stepping on one of these dubious machines, Stay Away. Boeing’s recent assurances of “Safety” being their Top Priority, sounds like a scratched record for having been caught in their Profit & Loss Priorities for their shareholders, and Airlines/Passengers became victimized by their $$$ Appétit!

Kevin

Are there any Bristol or argosy freightliners still in operation

Phixer

Not for many years. The Argosy died out some time ago while a Bristol was still flying in Canada more recently.

Gerry Stumpe

Interesting that Southwest with hundreds of the type had only two with issues. Brazilian Gol however, had eleven. Must be some pretty rough landings for Gol.

Peter

It may have something to do with the climate in which the planes are operated.
The US southwest is hot and dry (that’s why planes are stored there), whereas Brazil is hot and damp. This might be a useful clue to the investigators trying to find the cause of this problem.

Phixer

I believe that Gol has short field kits which is likely to make a harder landing at airports which are probably not too smooth anyway

Chuck

Just curious, but who picks up the tab for the pickle fork repairs; Boeing or the airlines??? This sounds more like a defect than abuse by the customer.

Vince

Boeing will most likely offer discounts for future servicing of the aircraft as compensation. However the airline most likely still have to pay for the portion of the pickle fork replacement cost.