The Federal Aviation Administration, a week after an Aloha Airlines jet ripped open at 24,000 feet, blowing a stewardess to her death, announced Wednesday the agency is expanding its required inspections of the aging Boeing 737s.
FAA Administrator Allan McArtor said that an initial inspection of the Aloha Airlines jet crippled last week after part of its fuselage blew off at high altitude raised concerns about a bonding process used in older 737s.The process, known as "cold bonding," seals together layers of an aircraft skin. The agency has discovered that it could lead to corrosion and cracks in the fuselage joints.
Some 291 of the aircraft model were built using this process. Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was traveling at 330 mph when an 18-foot chunk of the top of the fuselage tore off and blew away late Thursday. The pilot, incredibly, landed the craft at Kahului airport on the island of Maui.
The stewardess was blown out of the aircraft and 61 of the 95 passengers and crew were injured. Seven remained hospitalized, all in satisfactory condition.
"The FAA has reason to believe that possible delamination of the bond requires mandatory inspections," McArtor said at a press briefing.
The agency announced an order last weekend requiring detailed visual inspections of some 36 older 737s with more than 55,000 landings and restricted those aircraft to fly at lower than 23,000 feet until inspected.
Wednesday's order expands the required detailed visual inspection to cover all of the older 737s in the U.S. fleet that were manufactured with the "cold-bonding" process. The FAA did not know exactly how many of the 291 aircraft were owned by U.S. airlines.
In addition, the FAA is requiring 737s with more than 50,000 landings to be inspected electronically with a devise that shoots a current through the aircraft's skin to detect cracks.
Any aircraft where visual inspection reveals cracking or corrosion also will be tested under the FAA order.
The inspections must occur within the next 500 landings, and the airlines must report their findings back to the FAA within 48 hours of the inspection.
McArtor said the detailed inspections are being required beyond the point where normal structural problems begin to occur.
"While we do not know the exact cause of the Aloha Airline accident, it is time for an abundance of caution," McArtor said.
He said that the older 737s were just as safe as the newer ones if properly maintained or the FAA would not have allowed them to continue to fly.