WASHINGTON / PARIS (Reuters) – US and European regulators ordered emergency inspections of nearly 700 aircraft engines on Friday within 20 days, similar to those of a deadly Southwest Airlines ( LUV.N ) earlier this week exploded blowout, citing risks of a similar disaster.
Guidelines issued by the US Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency for inspections of CFM56-7B engines produced by CFM International have highlighted increasing concerns since a similar failure of the same engine type in 2016.
The engine explosion on Southwest Airlines' 1380 flight on Tuesday was caused by a broken fan blade, the FAA said. The blast shook a window and killed a passenger in the first US passenger airline since 2009.
"The unsafe condition," the FAA said in sequence, "likely will exist or evolve in other products of the same design" [1
Ultrasound scans on fan blades that have been in use for more than 30,000 cycles or for about 20 years will be needed in the next 20 days, the agencies said Friday. A cycle includes a takeoff and a landing.
This order will affect around 680 engines worldwide, including around 350 in the US, according to the FAA. The engine that exploded on Tuesday in the southwest of the plane would have been affected as the company said it had 40,000 cycles.
The 20-day co-ordinated action partially solves a gap in earlier responses to the 2016 accident by the world's two largest and most influential aviation authorities, a person familiar with the discussions and showing the published documents.
The FAA issued an order in August 2017 stating that the airline should have up to 18 months to perform controls, but it had not completed the action by the time of the deadly second accident on Tuesday.
EASA had rejected an airline request to double the inspection time to 18 months, which coincided with the introduction of the FAA. According to data, this was not justified.
The divergence marked a rare rapprochement between the two agencies, especially in one of the world's most popular aviation products. CFM, jointly owned by General Electric Co ( GE.N ) and Safran ( SAF.PA ), produces the CFM56 engine in factories in the US and the UK Europe.
"It happens that in some cases there are disagreements about the right way, and that was one of them," said the person familiar with the discussions.
On Tuesday, however, when news broke for a second The failure had happened to the same engine, plane and airline – this time killing a passenger who was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to their seat – The two agencies were ready to act quickly, the person said.
A FAA spokesman said the agency denies that it has not voted with the European regulators on the response to the engine problem. An EASA spokesperson declined to comment. [Wednesday] [NHSB] Chairman Robert Sumwalt, the chief investigator of US aviation accidents, said he had no idea yet whether the incident indicated a fleet-wide problem. The NTSB did not want to comment on Friday.
The FAA and NTSB have different roles. Investigators investigate the likely cause of individual accidents and recommend possible changes to safety rules, while regulators need to assess whether safety risks can occur.
Several leading airlines have indicated that the order will mainly impact airlines with higher aircraft occupancy, covering shorter routes such as Southwest.
Southwest, which opposed last year's efforts to shorten the FAA's earlier proposed deadline, said Friday its maintenance program meets or exceeds the new requirements.
United Continental Holdings ( UAL.N ) said it had started inspections earlier, following a CFM recommendation. American Airlines ( AAL.O ) said it has no CFM56-7B engines with 30,000 cycles and would not be affected by the 20-day order. Delta Air Lines ( DAL.N ) stated that it has begun to comply with regulations and is not expecting any operational impact on customers
About 14,000 CFM56-7B engines are in operation.
CFM had initially recommended the inspections.
The European regulation requires airlines to repeat the process every 3,000 cycles after the first inspection, which is usually about two years of service.
More than 150 have already been inspected.
Inspections recommended by the end of August will affect an additional 2,500 engines.
Reporting by Tim Hepher and David Shepardson; additional coverage by Sanjana Sitara Shivdas; Letter from Peter Henderson; Arrangement by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler