Southwest Completes Engine Inspections After Fatal Flight and Finds No Flaws
Southwest Airlines has completed the inspection of 35,000 engine fan blades mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration after a broken fan blade caused a fatal injury on Southwest Flight 1380 in April.
The carrier said it found no structural flaws with the engine fan blades in its Boeing 737s, but Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said Wednesday at the company's annual meeting that several dozen blades were sent back to the engine manufacturer out of "an abundance of caution."
The airline sent the handful of blades back to the engine builder General Electric because the inspection revealed some "coating anomalies," but no signs of metal fatigue — the cause of the fatal incident on Flight 1380.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the incident, metal fatigue caused a fan blade to break off mid-flight, which caused the engine to explode and send shrapnel crashing through a passenger's window. That passenger, Jennifer Riordan, was nearly sucked out of the plane and later died from her injuries.
Kelly said he doesn't anticipate any negative findings with the blades that showed anomalies in their coating, The Washington Post reports.
After Southwest Flight 1380, the FAA originally issued an emergency airworthiness directive, mandating that CFM56-7B engines on some Boeing 737s — the same engine involved in the fatal incident — that have been used in more than 30,000 cycles (roughly 20 years of service) must undergo ultrasonic inspection.
The regulatory aviation body then changed the directive to encompass all CFM56-7B engines that have seen 20,000 cycles must be inspected by August 31.
On Wednesday, the FAA pushed that deadline up to June 30, ensuring that all carriers with the CFM56-7B engine, which is one of the most popular aircraft engines in use today, would have their inspections completed even faster. The new deadline matches timeline recommendations from engine manufacturers GE and Safran.
The FAA is working with the manufacturers, other federal agencies and European regulators to prioritize the oldest engines are inspected first. “The FAA is acting to ensure an extra measure of safety for fan blade performance in CFM56 engines,” the agency said of the new deadline to USA Today.
Before the original FAA mandate to inspect the engine fan blades, Southwest had voluntarily accelerated its inspection of the engines in its fleet following Flight 1380. The carrier was already inspecting its engines after a similar incident with an engine fan blade that had metal fatigue caused engine failure, cabin depressurization and an emergency landing on a Florida-bound flight in 2016.