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Southwest Emergency Landing: Boeing Knew of 737 Crack Problem

David Madison/Getty Images(SEATTLE) -- Aviation giant Boeing admitted on Tuesday that it was aware of weaknesses in its 737 classic jets, but it never expected a 15-year-old Southwest Airlines jet to crack open in mid-flight.

In a conference call with reporters, Boeing officials acknowledged that they knew of problems with the lap-joint that binds together the fuselage of the plane, but they didn't expect the problem to surface until the 737 jets had experienced many more takeoff and landing cycles.

"Our plan was to recommend inspections at 60,000 cycles. Obviously, none are close to that at this point in time," said Paul Richter, the chief project engineer for Boeing's 737 classic. "It is regrettable that we had to accelerate our plans based on an event of this nature."

The 15-year-old Southwest Airlines jet, which tore open along its lap joint last Friday, had only 39,000 takeoff and landing cycles.

Boeing's 737 classics were manufactured from 1984 until 2000. In 1993, Boeing redesigned its 737 due to problems with the lap-joint design, but the problem Southwest jet was manufactured after that redesign.

Boeing will now recommend that all 737 jets that cross the 30,000-cycle threshold be inspected for fatigue cracks. The inspections are to be repeated after every 500 flight cycles.

The number of affected jets now stands at 175 worldwide, though that will eventually climb to over 500 jets as the 737s age and acquire more flight cycles.

Boeing said that the newer 737 currently in production has a different lap-joint design and should not experience cracking.

Boeing's admission comes as the federal government prepares to order emergency inspections on those 175 jets and considers a wholesale reassessment of its approach to plane inspections. Inspections will initially focus on 175 planes, used by airlines around the world, that make frequent takeoffs and landings. Eighty of the planes are in service in the United States, most of them for Southwest Airlines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio