Indonesian airline Lion Air has found structural cracks in two of its Boeing 737 aircraft. Other airlines have found the same problem in recent weeks, but the Lion Air aircraft in question have flown fewer cycles than the FAA threshold for safety checks.
Budget airline Lion Air has grounded two of its Boeing 737 NG aircraft after finding cracks. This makes it the latest airline to ground the 737 with the same problem. The cracks are located in an area known as “pickle forks”, which help reinforce the connections between the main body of the aircraft and the wings.
An ongoing problem
Lion Air is not the only airline to have found this issue. Qantas also found similar damage on three of its 737 NG aircraft last week.
After initial cracks were found in October, the FAA issued an order which required all 737 NGs that had flown more than 30,000 cycles to be inspected within seven days. In addition to this, all planes with more than 22,600 flights had to be checked within the next 1,000 cycles.
Qantas hurried to comply with this directive after it discovered a crack during routine maintenance. It has now grounded three aircraft with damage but has not grounded its entire fleet of 737s. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that “Qantas has inspected 33 aircraft above 22,600 flight cycles, leaving 42 which have not been inspected.”
“Even where these hairline cracks are present they’re not an immediate risk, which is clear from the fact the checks were not required for at least seven months,” said Qantas domestic chief executive Andrew David amid calls to ground all 737s.
Cause for concern
The two damaged Lion Air aircraft have sparked fresh calls for concern as they have each flown fewer than 22,000 flights. This is below the threshold for mandatory checks and the cracks were only discovered after Lion Air performed their own checks to “ensure security and safety of the flights”.
A spokesman for Lion Air confirmed that the aircraft are now grounded until further checks and repairs have been carried out.
As the Lion Air aircraft were found to be damaged despite having flown less than the 22,600 cycles, the FAA may now decide to issue an order for operators to inspect all 737 NG aircraft.
An FAA spokesperson said the agency had asked airlines to report any further damage found. This is so it can make a full assessment of the situation and potentially change its inspection policy.
Fewer than 5% have had an issue
Lion Air is yet to issue a statement. However, Indonesia’s Director-General of Civil Aviation, Polana Pramesti, said the country’s aviation regulator was going to follow the FAA directive. He said that, at this time, there were no plans for further mandatory checks.
While Boeing did not respond to Simple Flying’s request for a comment, it has previously stated that approximately 1,000 aircraft worldwide had met the FAA threshold for checks. Of those which had been checked, fewer than 5% had any issues.
No doubt Boeing will be anxious to ensure any further damage is dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible as it continues to deal with the aftermath of the two 737-MAX crashes. Do you think Boeing’s reputation could handle another scandal involving aircraft safety? Are the pickle fork cracks serious cause for concern for the company? Let us know what you think below.