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.
In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded killing more than 200 people. The aviation accident was the result of a fuel tank explosion that occurred shortly after the Boeing 747 took from John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens. In response to the tragedy, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board developed regulations that required airlines to retrofit the fuel tanks of many older planes. Boeing was tasked with providing the airlines with instructions on what needed to be done to avoid another fuel tank explosion. Boeing's failure to deliver those instructions according to the timeline set forth in the regulations has led the FAA to propose a $13.5 million fine. The fine is the second largest proposed in the history of the FAA.
Boeing Company's 787 Dreamliner jets are made up of composite parts to a greater extent than any airliner that preceded them. The heavy reliance on carbon-plastic parts may now pose a threat of aviation accidents as the aircraft are showing signs of stress in the fuselage. Boeing insists the problems are easily repairable and hopes to avoid further delays in the production of Dreamliners in 2012. So far, the five Dreamliners currently in use have suffered no failures and are operating as expected.
About 20 minutes after taking off from Phoenix Sky Harbor Internal Airport on Friday afternoon, Southwest Airlines Flight 812 made an emergency landing after the plane's fuselage ruptured causing a 5 foot long tear in the ceiling. Some of the plane's 118 passengers described hearing loud pops and then seeing a gaping hole rip through the roof of the Boeing 737. The plane suffered rapid decompression, and oxygen masks popped out as the plane dove to a lower altitude where passengers could breathe on their own. According to one passenger, some people "were passing out because they weren't getting the oxygen" from masks that dropped from above during the emergency. Terrified passengers thought the end was near, and one woman texted her husband, "Plane going down. Love you."