A federal agency is asking U.S. air carriers to enhance and increase inspections of Boeing 737 aircraft in their fleets. The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned about undetected cracks in the fuselage or bulkhead that could cause dangerous decompressions. The problem first drew the attention of the FAA in 2009, after a Boeing 737 operated by Southwest Airlines experienced cabin decompression at 30,000 feet. The pilots of that aircraft were able to complete an emergency landing and no one onboard was injured.
After the initial incident, the FAA required roughly 130 Boeing 737s to undergo inspection for cracks. The planes involved were older planes, similar to the one that decompressed. The FAA is now ordering fuselage inspections on four younger versions of the 737. More than 1,600 of the aircraft are affected by this new order.
In addition to requesting that more planes be inspected, the FAA is asking that the initial and ongoing inspections be more thorough. It is asking that ultrasound and other electronic tests be conducted on the planes. After an initial check, some planes would be re-inspected after as few as 1,200 flights.
The inspection rules laid out by the FAA are preliminary. The rules are open for public comments which will be evaluated by the FAA before a final rule is published. An FAA statement explained the need for enhanced inspection by saying that the cracks involved "could result in rapid decompression of the airplane." According to a Boeing spokesman, the FAA's proposal concerning the increased efforts to check 737s would not begin for approximately two years, based on the average age of the planes currently in service.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "FAA Seeks Enhanced Inspections to Detect Boeing 737 Cracks," by Andy Pasztor, 19 September 2012