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Tuesday
Apr052011

Feds Order 737 Inspections in Wake of Crack in Southwest Jet

David McNew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government on Tuesday will order emergency inspections on 175 737 airliners and is rethinking its approach to plane inspections after a Southwest Airlines jet tore open in mid-flight Friday night, ABC News has learned.

Inspections will initially focus on 175 planes around the globe that make frequent takeoffs and landings. Eighty of the planes in question are in service in the United States, most of which are part of the Southwest Airlines fleet.

The government is particularly concerned about older 737-300, 737-400 and 737-500 jets that have taken off and landed more than 30,000 times. Jets that have accumulated many flight cycles are apparently more likely to develop the sort of fatigue cracks that may have caused the tear in the skin of the Southwest Boeing 737-300 last week.

As the nation's planes age, more jets could cause concern and require inspection for such fatigue cracks.

Inspectors use something called eddy current technology, passing an electric current through an aircraft's skin to look for small cracks. If any warning signs are detected, more sophisticated ultrasound and X-ray tools are then used for a closer examination. In some areas, a plane's skin can be as thin as a nickel.

Inspections of Southwest's 737-300 fleet have already discovered three more planes with fatigue cracks, officials said.

Investigators have cleared 57 of Southwest's 79 Boeing 737-300 jets to return to service, but at least 600 flights have been canceled since Friday's harrowing emergency landing.

Southwest flight 812, enroute from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif., was diverted to a military base at Yuma, Ariz., after a section of the plane's fuselage ripped open, depressurizing the plane and exposing the sky to passengers.

Last night, another Southwest flight was diverted. The flight, headed from Oakland, Calif., to San Diego, Calif., made an emergency landing because of a burning electrical smell.

Meanwhile, the five-foot section of the plane's fuselage that opened up Friday on flight 812 is headed back to Washington, D.C., for detailed microscopic analysis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 







ABC News Radio