Fuselage worries for model type
Cayman Airways will have to conduct inspections on two of its four Boeing 737-300s after a torn fuselage on a similar Southwest Airlines craft grounded 175 planes worldwide.
The 15-year old Southwest Flight 812 plane, also of the 737-300 series, had been in transit between Phoenix, Arizona and Sacramento, California when a five-foot hole appeared while the craft was at 34,000 feet. The plane was forced into an emergency landing.
In a release to the media, Cayman Airways noted that the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, had published instructions in the form of a service bulletin for certain aircraft to be inspected at or before 30,000 flight cycles.
A cycle is defined as one take-off and landing. “Cayman Airways Limited confirms that the Service Bulletin is only applicable to two of its four Boeing 737-300 aircraft and that inspections in accordance with this bulletin will be conducted on those two aircraft well ahead of the required inspection timeline,” said the carrier.
The Southwest plane had completed 39,000 cycles during its lifetime to date. Around 60,000 cycles is considered the upper limit of a plane’s safe use by the industry.
Low flight cycles
Cayman Airways CEO, Fabian Whorms, added that because Cayman Airways’ aircraft have accumulated a low number of flight cycles, one aircraft requires inspection within 20 months and the other in 28 months.
He said that the Boeing Service Bulletin will be complied with well ahead of the required timeline because the two aircraft are due to undergo scheduled heavy maintenance early in 2012.
Cayman Airways is also conducting detailed visual inspections of its own, in the defined areas on all four of its Boeing 737-300 aircraft as an added precautionary measure to supplement the mandated Boeing inspections.
“As always, Cayman Airways takes pride in upholding the highest standards of safety and security for our passengers and we are highly committed to maintaining constant compliance with all regulatory requirements,” he said.
Mr. Whorms also noted that the airline’s Boeing 737-300 aircraft are maintained to meet several applicable manufacturer and regulatory requirements including those of the British Overseas Territories, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands, the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.
The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States had ordered the inspection of similar airplanes following the incident in which a five-foot tear developed in an aircraft operated by Southwest Airlines on Friday, 1 April.
The administration said that it would issue an emergency directive requiring initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage on specific early Boeing 737 models. Around 175 aircraft worldwide are affected, 80 of which are registered in the United States.
The Aviation Administration explained that its airworthiness directive will require initial inspections using electromagnetic, or eddy-current, technology in specific areas of the aircraft fuselage on certain Boeing 737 aircraft in the -300, -400 and -500 series that have accumulated more than 30,000 flight cycles. It will then require repetitive inspections at regular intervals.
More than 650 Southwest flights were cancelled over the weekend and on Tuesday the carrier said it was undertaking repairs to five planes, although it was back up to full service in general.
Safety a priority
United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that safety was No. 1 priority.
“Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation,” he said.
Last November, the Federal Aviation Administration published a rule designed specifically to address widespread fatigue damage in aging aircraft.
The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to establish a number of flight cycles or hours a plane can operate and be free from fatigue damage.
The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to incorporate the limits into their maintenance programmes.
Randy Babbit of the Federal Aviation Administration added that there were comprehensive programmes in place to protect aircraft from structural damage as they aged.
“This action is designed to detect cracking in a specific part of the aircraft that cannot be spotted with visual inspection.”