WASHINGTON Federal regulators have ordered inspections for hundreds of older model Boeing 737 jetliners after numerous reports of fuel leaks caused by a potentially faulty bolt.
In August, a fire destroyed a China Airlines 737 when a bolt from a right wing slat pierced the jetliner's fuel tank. All 165 people aboard evacuated unharmed just before the Boeing plane exploded on a tarmac in Okinawa, Japan.
The Federal Aviation Administration later that month ordered inspections of similar newer model 737s but expanded the order to older models because of their design similarities, agency spokesman Les Dorr said Tuesday.
"Boeing notified us of numerous reports of fuel leaks from older models, but no fires," Dorr said.
The order affects 652 aircraft in the U.S. and a total of more than 3,500 worldwide. U.S. carriers must get the planes inspected within 90 days of the FAA order's effective date of April 8, Dorr said. The safety checks are to detect and fix a bolt that can fall off and puncture the aircraft's fuel tanks.
Among the carriers affected by the new order are: Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Southwest, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and others.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the government order follows action taken by the company and carriers "to ensure continued operational safety of the 737 fleet."
The Air Transport Association said its members "already have begun performing the inspections ... (and) expect no impact on service," according to trade group spokesman David Castelveter.
The FAA's latest action is not related to a Southwest Airlines Co. probe that showed it continuing to fly nearly 50 Boeing 737s that hadn't been inspected for cracks in their fuselages, Dorr said. Southwest is facing a $10.2 million fine in that case the largest civil penalty the FAA has ever proposed against a carrier but the company has said it will appeal.
In a separate directive that affects about 5,000 general aviation aircraft in the U.S. and an additional 1,000 planes worldwide, the FAA has ordered immediate inspections of all the small planes, after reports that a faulty gasket can cause loss of engine power.
The FAA directive applies to propellor planes that used certain gaskets shipped by Precision Airmotive LLC after August 2006. This month the company, based in Marysville, Wash., has issued and revised its own safety bulletins about the gaskets on its Web site.