US watchdog to order jet engine inspections after Southwest blast
Ultrasonic inspection of fan blades needed on CFM56-7B engines with certain number of takeoffs
Investigators in Philadelphia examine a damaged engine that caused the death of a passenger on a Southwest Airlines jet earlier this week. The engine suffered catastrophic damage shortly after takeoff from La Guardia Airport in New York. Photograph: National Transport Safety Board/New York Times
Bank executive Jennifer Riordan (above) was killed after she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat on a Southwest flight as the cabin suffered rapid decompression due to an engine explosion. File photograph: Marla Brose/The Albuquerque Journal/AP
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it will order inspections of about 220 aircraft engines as investigators found a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion this week on a Southwest flight, killing a passenger.
The regulator said late on Wednesday it plans to finalise the airworthiness directive within the next two weeks. The order, which it initially proposed in August following an incident in 2016, will require ultrasonic inspection within the next six months of the fan blades on all CFM56-7B engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs.
Airlines said that because fan blades may have been repaired and moved to other engines, the order would affect far more than 220 of the CFM56-7Bs, which are made by a partnership of France’s Safran and General Electric.
The CFM56 engine on Southwest flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board. The explosion sent shrapnel ripping into the fuselage of the Boeing 737-700 plane and shattered a window.
Bank executive Jennifer Riordan (43) was killed when she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat as the cabin suffered rapid decompression. Fellow passengers were able to pull her back inside but she died of her injuries.
On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the incident began when one of the engine’s 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub. Investigators found the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.
Mr Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide problem in the Boeing 737-700.
Inspecting similar engines
Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest CFM56 engines, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time this kind of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.
A NTSB inspection crew was also combing the affected Boeing 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.
Mr Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, had a second fracture about halfway along its length.
Pieces of the aircraft were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Mr Sumwalt said.
Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a plane window, almost sucking Ms Riordan out.
Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the jet, piloted by Tammie Jo Shults, a former US Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.
The airline expected to wrap up its inspection of the engines it was targeting in about 30 days.
In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the FAA to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed. – Reuters