Inspections Of 737s Ordered After Southwest Incident

The Federal Aviation Administration is ordering all airlines to inspect the fuselages of older 737 aircraft for cracks after the skin of a Southwest Airlines jet ruptured Friday, forcing an emergency landing in Arizona. Already Southwest has found cracks in three more 737-300s, raising concerns about the airworthiness of the Boeing planes.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today, Federal Aviation regulators will order all airlines to inspect the fuselages of older Boeing 737 aircraft for cracks. That's after a hole opened up in the roof of a Southwest Airlines jet, forcing an emergency landing. Southwest has since found cracks in the skin of three more of its planes.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this report.

WADE GOODWYN: There are few things more frightening for passengers and crew than a catastrophic rupture in a plane's skin, followed by decompression and an emergency descent to 10,000 feet. When investigators inspected the wounded Southwest jet, they found more cracks along what are called lap joints. There are two lap joints at the top of the plane where the skin is attached, and they run the length of the jet. That's where a sizable hole blew out on Southwest flight 812, knocking out one passenger and one flight attendant through oxygen deprivation.

Southwest inspected and quickly found three more jets that had cracks in the lap joints. That got everybody's attention, and now the maker Boeing has issued a service bulletin strongly recommending that owners of 737-300's inspect their lap joints now and often. Then by the end of the yesterday, the FAA required that approximately 175 737-300's, 400's and 500's be inspected with electromagnetic testing which could detect cracks invisible to the eye.

This is the second time a Southwest 737-300 has ruptured at altitude. In July of 2009, flight 2294 was forced to make an emergency landing at Yeager Airport in West Virginia after ripping open at 34,000 feet.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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