HEADLINE Southwest challenged engine maker CFM over proposed FAA inspections

HEADLINE

Southwest challenged engine maker CFM over proposed FAA inspections

Reuters

01:43, April 20, 2018

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Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to the Philadelphia International Airport this morning after the airline crew reported damage to one of the aircraft's engines, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Reuters) 

Southwest Airlines Co clashed with engine-maker CFM over the timing of proposed inspections and with regulators over costs after a 2016 accident involving the airline that was caused by a fan blade separating, public documents showed.

The documents, which are on a US federal website and were viewed by Reuters, reveal the wrangling over previously proposed safety checks on CFM engines that are now the focus of investigations following a fatal engine explosion this week.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday it would order the inspection of some CFM jet engines after investigators said a broken fan blade touched off the engine explosion on a Southwest Airlines flight, shattering a window and killing a passenger. It was the first death in a US commercial aviation accident since 2009.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Florida after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine, and debris ripped a foot-long hole above the left wing. Investigators found signs of metal fatigue.

The Dallas-based carrier was not the only operator to ask for more time or suggest other changes as first the engine maker, CFM International, and then the FAA and its European counterpart proposed checks last year for potentially flawed fan blades.

CFM suggested a shorter examination period than some airlines wanted, of no more than 12 months. Southwest told the FAA in October that airlines needed 18 months and that only certain fan blades should be inspected, not all 24 in engines.

“SWA does NOT support the CFM comment on reducing compliance time to 12 months,” Southwest Airlines wrote in a comment available on the federal website that allows companies and individuals to comment on proposed new rules. CFM International is a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran.

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said on Thursday the comments “were to add further clarification on items included in the proposed AD.” She said the company had satisfied the terms of the CFM service bulletin but did not immediately answer questions about how many engines had been inspected and whether the failed engine had been inspected.

The objections from Southwest and other airlines stem partly from the fact that carriers, while highly regulated, are not required to track each individual fan blade within an engine.

That, in turn, is making it harder for investigators to be certain whether the engine that exploded on a Boeing 737 on Tuesday was part of a group being targeted for inspection, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The blades, which sweep air backwards to help provide thrust, can be changed and repaired independently of the rest of the engine, meaning airlines that don’t keep tabs have to examine more engines than anticipated, which adds time and cost.

The NTSB said of Tuesday’s incident that one of the fan blades on Southwest Flight 1380 broke and fatigue cracks were found on the inside of the blade.

Southwest said in its submission on the federal website it would have to inspect some 732 engines in one of two categories of engines under review - much higher than the FAA’s total estimate of 220 engines needing to be inspected across the whole US fleet.

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

On Tuesday, the airline said it would accelerate inspections and complete them in the next 30 days.

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