Boeing's cracked 737s: Are SA's airlines flying potentially faulty planes? ​

01 November 2019 - 18:27 By Paul Ash
A view from the cockpit of a Mango Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Lanseria airport in South Africa. Mango found cracks in one of its planes after at least 50 aircraft were grounded overseas. File photo.
A view from the cockpit of a Mango Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Lanseria airport in South Africa. Mango found cracks in one of its planes after at least 50 aircraft were grounded overseas. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht

Local airlines have inspected their Boeing 737-800 “Next Generation” aircraft after cracks were found in the wing structures of identical planes overseas, leading to at least 50 aircraft being grounded.

The US Federal Aviation Administration issued a directive to all 737NG operators in early October that aircraft with 30,000 or more “cycles” — take-offs and landings — should be checked for cracking in the structure that helps attach the wing to the fuselage.

FlySafair spokesperson Kirby Gordon said all eight of the airline's 737-800NG fleet had been checked and were “100% clear”.

Mango, which operates 14 of the type, had found cracks in one plane. “The affected aircraft is not in operation and will be brought online once the necessary work is completed,” Mango said.

Comair, which operates Kulula and the British Airways franchise in SA, said six of its 14-strong fleet 737-800NG aircraft had been inspected. “No cracks were found on the aircraft inspected and have all been cleared for service,” the company said in a statement.

The rest of Comair's 737NG aircraft will be inspected before the planes reach “the cycle threshold as determined by the FAA”, it said.

The FAA directive followed the discovery in September of cracks in a Chinese-operated Boeing 737NG while it was being converted into a freighter.

The structure, which resembles a large pickle fork, has a lifetime of 90,000 cycles, the same number as the airframe itself. According to the FAA directive, aircraft with more than 30,000 cycles needed to be checked immediately while planes with between 22,600 and 30,000 cycles needed to be checked within seven months.

So far some cracks have been found in some 50 aircraft, including 13 planes operated by US low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines and Brazil's GOL and three aircraft operated by Australian carrier Qantas. One of the Qantas aircraft had less than 27,000 cycles.

FlySafair's Gordon noted that the airworthiness directives (ADs) are regularly issued for various aircraft and are quite common.

“The ADs are always very specific and informative,” he said.  

“We do our own maintenance so we had the power and ability to run immediate checks across our entire fleet based on the criteria outlined by Boeing. None of our aircraft required immediate intervention. There were recommendations for changes to when in an aircraft’s lifespan these should be changed, and we’ve updated our service planning as indicated by Boeing,” he said.


X