Inspections to be ordered after engine explosion

Associated Press


U.S. airline regulators said late Wednesday that they will order inspections on engine fan blades like the one involved in the fatal failure that killed a woman in a plane that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will issue a directive in the next two weeks to require inspections of certain CFM56-7B engines. The announcement came after initial findings from investigators showed that Tuesday’s emergency was caused by a fan blade that snapped off, leading to debris hitting the Southwest Airlines plane and a woman being partially blown out a window. She later died.

Tuesday’s emergency was eerily similar to an engine failure on another Southwest plane in 2016. That breakdown led the engine manufacturer to recommend new inspections of fan blades on many Boeing 737s.

Investigators say a fan blade snapped off as Southwest Flight 1380 cruised at 500 mph high above Pennsylvania on Tuesday. The failure set off a catastrophic chain of events that killed a woman and broke a string of eight-straight years without a fatal accident involving a U.S. airliner.

“Engine failures like this should not occur,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Wednesday.

Sumwalt expressed concern about such a destructive engine failure but said he would not yet draw broad conclusions about the safety of CFM56 engines or the entire fleet of Boeing 737s, the most popular airliner ever built.

Metal fatigue – microscopic cracks that can splinter open under the kind of stress placed on jetliners and their engines – was blamed for an engine failure on a Southwest plane in Florida in 2016. Both that plane and the jet that made a harrowing emergency landing Tuesday in Philadelphia were powered by CFM56 engines.

Manufacturer CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA, recommended last June that airlines using certain CFM56 engines conduct ultrasonic inspections to look for cracks.

Last month, European regulators required airlines flying in Europe to conduct the inspections that were recommended by CFM.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a similar directive last August but had not yet required the inspections.

The FAA proposal would have given airlines six months to inspect the fan blades on engines that had flown more than 7,500 flights, and 18 months on more lightly used engines.

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