Bloomberg News

‘Significant’ Cracks on Boeing 767 Spur Expanded Jet Checks

October 07, 2011

(Updates with comments by Boeing, airlines starting in fourth paragraph.)

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines and other U.S. carriers may need to inspect their Boeing Co. 767s twice as often after one operator found “significant crack sizes” had developed sooner than expected.

Airlines should inspect the twin-engine jets after 2,000 flight cycles or 6,000 flight hours, double the current requirement, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a proposal to be published in the Federal Register next week. The rule may affect 417 planes in the U.S., the agency estimated.

The FAA is proposing heightened scrutiny of the wing skin after cracks as large as a half-inch (1.3 centimeters) were found on either side of a fastener hole on a plane that had 18,900 flight cycles and 89,500 total flight hours. The 767 is a wide-body plane typically used on international flights.

“We support the rule proposed by FAA,” Julie O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based Boeing, wrote in an e-mailed message. The change “essentially would mandate the recommendations that Boeing first made to operators in a service bulletin in 2009 and revised in March 2011.”

Delta is one of the biggest operators of 767s, with 92 of the jets, some of which are an average of 19.7 years old, according to the Atlanta-based carrier’s most recent annual report. Fort Worth, Texas-based American has 73 of the planes, some of them 24 years old; Chicago-based United has 61 of the planes, some 18.3 years old.

Delta, United Continental

Delta wasn’t the unnamed airline whose 767 had the cracks, spokeswoman Ashley Black wrote in an e-mail. The company is in compliance with current FAA inspection requirements and will follow any changes that the agency makes, she said.

United Continental also complies with FAA directives and will continue to do so, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the carrier.

“We’re watching it closely,” she said.

Spokesmen for the other carriers didn’t immediately comment on the proposed regulation.

Earlier this year, Boeing called for more inspections on older 737 narrow-body jets after a Southwest Airlines Co. plane split open midflight, prompting an emergency landing. Two people were injured.

Metal fatigue cracks on the so-called 737 Classic weren’t forecast to occur until “much later,” after 60,000 cycles of takeoffs and landings, Boeing said in April. The Southwest jet that ripped open on an April 1 flight had flown 39,781 cycles.

Investigators said the Southwest plane’s fissure was caused by weakened fasteners in joints along the crown of the jet, and Dallas-based Southwest later found cracks on five more 737s. Boeing developed repair plans for the aircraft.

--With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas and Susanna Ray in Seattle. Editors: James Langford, John Lear

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta at mcredeur@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net.


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