Southwest challenged engine maker over proposed FAA inspections

Glen Norman
April 20, 2018

The cause of the incident is under investigation, but a "fatigue crack" in one of the failed engine's fan blade's is suspected to be the source of the problem.

An airline passenger who was killed Tuesday when an engine explosion caused a window to break died of blunt impact trauma to her head, neck and torso, according to the Philadelphia medical examiner.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will take at least a year to pinpoint what caused the engine failure that led to the first fatality on a USA -registered airline in more than nine years.

With Tuesday's possibly preventable fatality in mind, Froehling isn't the only flight attendant stepping forward to ask passengers to pay more attention during the brief safety demo.

Investigators describe a 22-minute flight of terror as the Southwest 737's left engine blew out at about 32,500, sending the plane into a 40 degree bank to the left.

CFM suggested a shorter examination period than some airlines wanted, of no more than 12 months. That incident prompted the FAA to propose a year ago that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

They were developed by French-US joint venture CFM International, which says it is the "world's leading supplier of jet engines for single-aisle aircraft". A spokeswoman said it was a visual inspection and oil service of the engines.

"They're going to figure this out pretty fast, because it affects so many aircraft and so many engines", he said.

The FAA followed with a proposed rule in August calling for inspection of certain fan blades on CFM56 turbofan engines.

Manufacturers regularly inspect engines for hidden cracks using X-ray machines or ultrasound devices - the same kind of technology doctors use to check the health of expectant mothers.

After the April 17 engine failure, Southwest said it will accelerate ultrasonic inspections of CFM56 engine fan blades "out of an abundance of caution", a process it expected will take 30 days.

The Federal Aviation Administration's announcement late Wednesday comes almost a year after the engine's manufacturer recommended the additional inspections, and a month after European regulators ordered their airlines to do the work.

"The affected engine count for the fleet in costs of compliance. appears to be vastly understated", it said.

Needum said he was surrounded on the plane by family members when they heard a "loud pop".

The fan blades are the first stage in the process of creating thrust in a jet engine. "Fan blades have been removed, repaired, reworked, and then relocated", it said, asking for 20 months to complete checks. That number could be higher now because more engines have hit the number of flights triggering an inspection.

United Continental Holdings Inc made a similar argument. It can take weeks and involves taking apart much of the plane for inspection and possible fix or replacement of parts, then putting it back together.

American Airlines said in a statement that after the FAA notice was published, it "voluntarily began inspections of CFM56-7B fan blades". They suggest it could be linked to a similar incident that occurred in 2016. The Federal Aviation Administration has not yet required airlines to conduct the inspections but said late Wednesday that it would do so in the next two weeks. They have a cruise speed of 850 kilometres per hour and can reach a max altitude of 41,000 feet. The NTSB plans to review its maintenance history.

Editor's note: The name of former NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker was misspelled in an earlier version of this report. Get twice-daily updates on what the St. Louis business community is talking about.

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