Qantas Engineers Call For Airline To Ground Its 737s After More Cracked Aircraft Discovered

Qantas engineers are claiming that pickle fork cracks have been found in a second Boeing 737 NG. As a result, the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) is calling for the airline to ground its entire fleet of 75 aircraft until each one can be inspected individually. Boeing says that out of around 1,000 aircraft inspected so far, just 5% have been found to have cracks.

Qantas pickle fork cracks
Qantas has reportedly found another aircraft with pickle fork cracks. Photo: Ev Brown via Flickr

Engineers call for grounding

Qantas was reportedly inspecting 33 of its 737 NG fleet yesterday in light of the recent concerns about pickle fork cracks. The cracking has been found on older 737 NG aircraft in some other fleets, and involves a structure which is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the wing to fuselage join. Airlines are checking aircraft with over 30,000 flight hours for the issue.

However, Qantas does not have any 737 NG with more than 30,000 flights. Nevertheless, the Australian airline found pickle fork cracks in one of its 737s during a routine inspection. As such, Qantas rolled out a wider investigation to check for the issue.

Qantas pickle fork cracks
Engineers are calling for the entire fleet to be grounded until they can be inspected. Photo: Ev Brown via Flickr

Although the airline has not admitted as much, the airlines’ engineers have said that cracking has been found on a second aircraft. Specifically, the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) is reported by ABC to have alleged cracking was found on a second 737 last night. ALAEA boss Steven Purvinas said.

“These aircraft should not be flying. The area where the crack is takes the load off the wing and all the fuel it carries. As long as Qantas is unaware which aircraft do or don’t have cracks, they should ground the entire fleet until they know which are safe to fly.”

“Completely irresponsible”

However, the airline assures that the cracks do not compromise safety and have said that the insinuation that it should ground the entire fleet is unreasonable. Qantas engineering boss Chris Snook told ABC,

“These are completely irresponsible comments. We would never operate an aircraft unless it was completely safe to do so.”

Qantas pickle fork cracks
Qantas affirm that the aircraft are perfectly safe. Photo: G B NZ via Wikimedia

Although the FAA’s inspection recommendation is for aircraft with over 30,000 flights, Qantas’ discovery of cracks in a plane with fewer hours led the airline to inspect all aircraft with over 22,600 cycles. This amounted to some 33 individual aircraft, which should all have been inspected by tomorrow morning.

However, the ALAEA is urging Qantas to ground all 75 of its 737 NG in order to check for pickle fork cracks. According to Mr Purvinas, the inspections only take an hour, so he believes it would be easy enough for Qantas to get them all inspected without too much disruption.

Over 1,000 planes have been inspected

A Boeing spokesperson told Reuters today that over 1,000 aircraft which met the threshold for inspections had already had examinations completed. Of these, less than 5% were found to have issues. While those with over 30,000 cycles were called for immediate inspection, Boeing is also now saying that those with more than 22,600 cycles should be inspected within the next 1,000 cycles.

Korean Air 737
Nine 737 NGs have been grounded due to cracks; five belong to Korean Air. Photo: LERK via Wikimedia

According to Reuters, the manufacturer is considering the implications for planes with less than 22,600 cycles. Boeing said to Reuters that,

“Depending on the results of these assessments, additional inspections or repairs may be required.”

So far, Southwest and Qantas have identified aircraft with cracks, and South Korea has grounded some nine 737 NGs across several airlines due to the issue. Virgin Australia has inspected all 19 of its aircraft and has found no issue, while American Airlines and United are undertaking inspections, but have not found any problems as yet.

Are you worried about pickle fork cracks? Do you think more planes should be grounded and inspected? Let us know in the comments.

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Richard Allison

I agree that it is an overreaction and that is coming from someone that prefers Airbus and would never fly on a 737max.

Norman

How often have we heard the phrase “the safety of our customers is our FIRST consideration” ??

Nathan

almost always, except when interviewing Dennis Muilenburg.

Alexander More

I suppose one can say that any aircraft is completely safe to fly . . . up to the moment it falls out of the sky. Five percent may seem a small proportion, but it is enough to be evidence of a design fault. Merely replacing the damaged component with an identical new one isn’t a permanent solution to the problem and doesn’t inspire confidence. I would be interested to know if the pickle forks were a feature of the original (1960s) 737 design and, if they were, how many of them developed cracks in those early days, and after… Read more »

Neil

The pickle fork cracks could also be due to manufacturing defects which only apply to certain batches of pickle forks.
Apparently the 737 Max does not use pickle forks.

David C

I may be wrong, but I believe that the MAX does have a similar structural member. I believe the reason for the alarm for the NG version is that the pickle fork was meant to have a lifetime of 90,000 cycles but cracks were found on aircraft at 30,000 cycles. Because of this, the operators are now required to check them at 30,000 cycles. None of the delivered MAX aircraft are even approaching 22,600 cycles the possible new threshold. especially since they are grounded except for approved ferry flights.

Jose

Dude you must hate Boeing!

Greg Hiller

Very well put, Alexander.

Patrick

I mean, this is not about percentage or statistics, it’s about passengers’ and cabin crews’ life. They are always like “your safety is our top priority” but when it comes to MONEY (of course airline companies may lose some profits by doing the inspections), they just forget what they said.

Lalo Galo

maybe its time for airlines to move on from the 737 in general and choose others

franz chong

if they have to use a bigger plane on certain services to fill the gaps such as an airbus a330-200 or a330-300 so be it.i am booked for adelaide sydney return for the month of december 2019.won’t be surprised if the plane i get at the gate turns out to be either airbus variant or if lucky a 787-8.

Greg Hiller

Dear Joanna,

Thanks for this.

However, flight cycles and flight hours are two different things.
In this article you use both terms as though they were interchangeable.

Regards, Greg.

Dean Prigg

Flying should be illegal. Take the bus.