The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order on Friday instructing airlines with the same engine type that catastrophically failed on Tuesday on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to more thoroughly investigate the fan blades of the engines.
The agency told airlines to conduct ultrasound scans – which could detect flaws or cracks that are invisible to the naked eye – over the next 20 days on fan blades of engines with more than 30,000 cycles. One cycle includes an engine start, takeoff, landing and shutdown.
The order from F.A.A came shortly after the manufacturer of the engines, CFM International, issued guidelines for ultrasonic testing. CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and the French company Safran Aircraft Engines, went beyond F.A.A and recommended testing rotor blades with 20,000 cycles by the end of August. It also recommended inspections of all other fan blades when they reach 20,000 cycles, and repeated the inspections every 3000 cycles, which, it said, "lasts about two years."
The F.A.A. said it acted because it has determined that fan blade cracking "probably exists or develops in other products of the same type design."
The Agency's mission is not to refer to these lesser-used engines, but said that "further arrangements to address these differences will be considered". Airlines are not required by law to adhere to company policies. They are bound to the F.A.A.
Over the past two years, two 737 Southwest Airlines had major engine failures that were apparently due to metal fatigue, evidence compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board (NSS). In both episodes, the first in 2016 and the one on Tuesday, the fan blades dissolved in the engines of the aircraft and hurled fragments into the body of the aircraft. On Tuesday, debris broke through one of the cabin windows and a passenger died as a result.
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