How Will 737NG Inspections Affect Travel This Summer?
Sunday brought news that the US Federal Aviation Administration has concerns with more than 300 Boeing 737 aircraft regarding "improper manufacturing" in the aircraft wing. This is because the leading edge slat tracks may have been "improperly manufactured and may not meet all applicable regulatory requirements for strength and durability", the FAA said in a statement posted to its website.
Of the 312 Boeing 737 jets affected, they are made up of the following variants:
- 133 Boeing 737NGs and
- 179 Boeing 737 MAXs.
As the Northern Hemisphere commences the peak summer travel period, how could this affect your summer travel?
All 737 MAXs are already grounded worldwide while airlines wait for certification following software updates. This grounding has been in place since March, and airlines have largely managed to cope without major impacts to their flight schedules, given the comparatively small number of MAX aircraft that have so far been produced. Airlines like American have managed to use larger aircraft on reduced frequencies to maintain a similar number of seats on routes that previously used MAX aircraft.
Other airlines like Norwegian have used leased aircraft to replace MAX-operated routes.
For the NG models — which stands for 'Next Generation', the generation before the MAX — the 133 affected by the FAA concerns represent less than 3% of the worldwide fleet of more than 7,000 Boeing 737NGs produced. This should mean that summer travel should not be significantly impacted.
The FAA has not announced which serial numbers and aircraft with which it is concerned. The 133 aircraft may belong to a single airline, or they may belong to dozens of airlines. Boeing, like Airbus, manufactures the same aircraft type for multiple airlines at the same time, so if the actual frames in question were all produced in the same time period it is likely they were delivered to a number of different airlines.
"Southwest is aware of the upcoming Service Bulletins from Boeing and the Airworthiness Directive planned by the FAA, highlighting the possibility of metal fabrication issues on a limited number of 737 slat track assemblies," a Southwest spokesperson told TPG. "We are preparing for the review of suspect track assemblies, as we await additional guidance from Boeing, and will fully comply with any service and regulatory requirements. This impacts about a handful of our aircraft, and we do not anticipate any impact to our operation."
Spokespeople for American Airlines, United Airlines and Norwegian Air have told TPG that none of their respective 737NGs are affected.
A spokesperson for Delta confirmed to TPG that one of its 737NGs was included in the airworthiness directive and is being inspected on Monday night. The carrier said that it's in close contact with Boeing.
Some airlines like Ryanair have hundreds of 737NG aircraft in their fleets. Unless a significant number of the affected 737NG aircraft belong to one airline, they have large enough fleets that they can hopefully continue their summer operations with minimal disruption to passengers. If airlines are significantly impacted, they should be advising any affected passengers to advise if there will be any changes to their travel plans, whether that is a change of flight or aircraft type.
You can determine if you are flying a Boeing 737 NG (or MAX) version by following our guide here.