Qantas Boeing 737 Crack Repairs Taking 3000 Man Hours Per Plane

The challenges of replacing pickle forks in their affected aircraft may have been underestimated at Qantas. The airline grounded three of its Boeing 737-800s in late October 2019 after hairline cracks were found in each aircraft’s pickle fork structures following inspection. At the time, Qantas was confident all three aircraft would be back in the air by Christmas. But the complexity of the job and the man-hours involved mean two of the three aircraft will stay grounded until mid to late January 2020.

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Qantas says replacement of pickle forks will take longer than expected. Photo: Qantas News Room.

The pickle fork is a key component of an aircraft, linking the wings to the fuselage. It is not the only component linking the wings to the fuselage. However, there is the possibility excessive cracking could adversely affect the structural integrity of the aircraft and result in a loss of control, particularly during turbulence or a heavy landing. The discovery of the cracks was called “a serious but manageable issue.”

Three Qantas 737-800s are grounded

Qantas has 75 Boeing 737-800 aircraft in its fleet. They are the mainstay of the airline’s domestic and short-haul international fleet. After cracks in the pickle fork structure were found in some aging Boeing 737-800 aircraft belonging to other airlines, Qantas inspected 33 of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Whilst the average age of Qantas’ Boeing 737-800 fleet is 13.0 years, the average age of the aircraft inspected in 20.7 years and all had completed more than 22,600 landings.

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Three Qantas 737-800s remained grounded in Brisbane. Photo; John via Flickr.

The oldest Qantas 737-800 aircraft have performed around 27,000 landings, below the 30,000 landings threshold set by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration for immediate inspection. This is also well below the 90,000 landings the pickle forks are meant to be good for. The three grounded Qantas aircraft had completed an average of 23,000 landings

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The three Qantas aircraft grounded are VH-VXA Broome, VH-VXF Sunshine Coast, and VH-VXM Mount Hotham. VH-VXA has been with Qantas since January 2002, VH-VXF has been with Qantas since March 2002 and VH-VXM has been working for the airline since July 2002. Following the discovery of the hairline cracks, the three aircraft were ferried to the Qantas heavy engineering base in Brisbane, Queensland, where they have remained since.

Time and complexity of pickle fork replacement underestimated?

According to a report by Robyn Ironside in The Australian late last week, each pickle fork replacement is set to take 3000 work hours. Twelve Qantas engineers had to fly to the United States to learn how to make the repairs. A Qantas spokesperson told The Australian;

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“Qantas Engineering is now one of the small handful of registered organizations who are able to complete these complex repairs.”

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Qantas says it will take 3,000 work hours to replace the pickle forks on each aircraft. Photo: Sheba_Also via Wikimedia Commons.

And whilst Qantas does expect to see one of the grounded aircraft back in the air by Christmas, the other two aircraft will be cooling their wheels in Brisbane.

“Due to other engineering requirements and the length of time taken to complete the works, Qantas expects the remaining two aircraft to be back in service before the end of January next year.” 

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Qantas says the groundings haven’t adversely affected services. Sheba-Also via Wikimedia Commons.

With three aircraft grounded, 6% of Qantas’ Boeing 737-800 fleet is offline with fewer seats available for sale. But Qantas notes that while leisure and family travel is picking up over the holiday season, business and government travel is in “out of office” mode. Subsequently, there have been no issues with seat availability and schedules have not been adversely impacted.

This is good news for travellers. But given the costs and complexity involved in replacing the cracked pickle forks, whether Qantas is so sanguine about the pickle fork matter behind closed doors at their Sydney HQ is another matter altogether.

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Armand2REP

3000 man hours??? You might as well lease new A320s for that price.

High Mile Club

No one ever said fixing a plane was as easy as fixing a car.

Robert T.

FAA and other agencies should reduce freshold to 25,000 and on those aircraft that don’t show detection should have future inspections every 5,000 landings, and those that have had repairs next 10,000 landings – just like car servicing except more vigilant, and with greater frequency. If a car breaks down, usually its manageable; whereas wings detaching from its fuselage going through heavy turbulence is completely different. I would like to see airframe builders offering service programs to airlines that are done at each airline’s maintenance site like Rolls Royce now offers to airlines purchasing its engines and opting in for… Read more »

TonytTDK

This is what comes of stretching-out a 60 year old design & concept, way beyond sensible.
The pickle forks are only needed in the B737, to ‘beef up’ the inadequate wing attachment, because the wing attachment was designed for an aircraft half its size.!
Other airliners have ‘wing box’, which can be redesigned & upgraded to correspond with the stretching of an airframe. How valuable will a used 737 airframe be if pickle fork replacement is going to become necessary at the 10-15 year D check.?

Bryce

And to think that this is Boeing’s flagship aircraft, and the mainstay of their income…
I wonder will Boeing pay the bill, or will they only offer discounts against future orders?

pats

That’s my question as well – who is going to pay the 12 engineers traveling to WA for training ?
Who is paying for the repair at 3000 man hours per plane?

Pangolin

The airline is. Once the airline takes possession it assumes all liability for future issues – even design issues – with the aircraft. It’s the way it works.

Shapes

They may be paying now, but as this is clearly a production fault you can be sure they will be approaching boing via lawyers for compensation.
Who would buy the NG now knowing it has a inherent fault set to show up after you’ve bought it?
Boing seems quite happy to crap on its airline customers.

Wayne silva

As an American who spends lots of time in AU. The people that I speak with do not seem to be a big fan of Qantas. Qantas is not liked at all. Overseas travelers of course are naive to the practice’s of Qantas.

Alexander More

Not sure what that has to do with the present discussion. It sounds a bit like one of those simplistic and irrelevant remarks Donald Trump tends to make. Qantas is at least acting responsibly, which – in the current cut-throat climate in the world of aviation – scores it quite a few Brownie points, at least in my book.

Norman clark

Either way…..boeing is second class now……

TonytTDK

Does that mean that these pickle fork cracks & the time it takes to replace them, is really Qantas fault for not being liked & not Boeing’s for making them badly.?…… Thought not.!

Dave

Boeing was the pinnacle of a company that more or less made flying what it is today. However, It is becoming more and more apparent that Boeing is not the company it used to be. The problems just seem to keep coming one after another and the company is more interested in profits over safety and leadership is just oblivious! The Max issue, the 767 Pegasus that has never ending development issues, the new 777 has problems that they keep under playing, the 787 is an airplane no one that builds it at Boeing will fly on because it scares… Read more »

Frank

Someone please tell Alan Joyce that you get what you pay for – hence why you don’t get those A220’s and A350’s for bargain basement prices.

TonytTDK

Didn’t he get is 787’s for about $150 each after discounts.?
No wonder he expects something for nothing every time.?

Alexander More

Poor old Boeing! It just seems to be going from bad to worse. It does seem a bit as if there’s a problem with the corporate culture.

Normanclark

Avoid all boeing…..

Andrew

Can’t we say “labour hours”? I am sure that they are female engineers undertaking these repairs, too.

Gary

looks like the Boeing 737 is made up of all faulty parts now.
The MCAS and the pickle fork.
Then there is them faulty parts in the flaps or slats as well.