Airlines Are Checking Boeing 737 CFM56 Engines — The World’s Best-Selling

Apr 18, 2018

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Some airlines in the US and around the world are opting to perform inspections on the engines on some Boeing 737 aircraft in their fleets, following Tuesday’s deadly Southwest Airlines engine explosion.

All recent Boeing 737s are equipped and powered by CFM engines. The US-French joint venture between General Electric and Safran, CFM, says that more than 8,000 of its CFM56-7B engines are in operation on 737s all over the world. In addition, the engines also power some of Airbus’ single-aisle family of aircraft. In total, the CFM engines installed on recents 737s have logged more than 350 million hours of safe travel.

CFM56s are also installed on the Airbus A318, A319, A320, A321 and A340, as well as on military planes like the US Air Force’s Boeing KC-135 airborne tanker and Boeing E-6 Mercury “Doomsday Plane.” However, the CFM56-7 variant installed on the 737 is slightly different from the engines on those airplanes. Altogether, the CFM56 is by far the best-selling jet engine in the world.

Earlier this month, European regulators ordered checks on some 737 engines following a non-fatal incident two years ago — also on Southwest Airlines, the largest 737 operator in the world. At this point in the investigation, it’s too early to say whether both Southwest engine incidents — the fatal one from Tuesday and the non-fatal one from 2016 — are linked.

According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, the engine operating the Southwest flight on Tuesday showed signs of “metal fatigue.”

“We are very concerned,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said about the issue facing airlines with slow-developing metal fatigue. “There needs to be proper inspection mechanisms in place to check for this before there’s a catastrophic event.”

In response to Tuesday’s incident, Southwest said that it’s speeding up the inspection of all related engines on its all-737 fleet. The carrier expects to complete that inspection process within the next 30 days.

Following 2016’s incident with Southwest, European regulators began requiring that airlines inspect the engines. Now, with Tuesday’s incident, the US is said to be considering implementing similar regulations. At this time, it’s too early in the investigation to be able to tell if the regulations would have subjected the engines operating Tuesday’s flight to be inspected.

On Wednesday, Korean Air Lines said that it plans to carry out voluntary inspections of the engines that are used to operate its entire fleet of 737s. According to a Korean Air official, about 20%-30% of the carrier’s 737 use the same type of fan blade as the one use on Tuesday’s Southwest flight. Similarly, Japan Airlines said that two of the 737s in its fleet had the engines with the same fan blades, and inspections on those aircraft were expected to be completed on Wednesday. Finally, flydubai, the low-cost carrier, said that it implemented the European directive for inspections.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a CFM56-powered aircraft takes off somewhere around the world every two seconds.

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