Southwest: inspections show no flaws in fan blades

By Ashley Halsey III | Washington Post

Southwest Airlines has completed the federally mandated inspection of 35,000 engine fan blades like the one that disintegrated in a fatal accident last month without finding additional flaws, but Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said Wednesday that “a handful” of blades had been sent to the manufacturer for further examination.

Southwest said the blades were sent to engine maker General Electric out of “an abundance of caution” because of “coating anomalies” on the blades, and not because they showed any sign of metal fatigue.

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“I don’t think we’ll have any [negative] findings with those,” Kelly said in talking with reporters after Southwest held its annual meeting in Annapolis.

A Southwest passenger, Jennifer Riordan, 43, a bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was killed April 17 when an engine fan fractured near its hub in a spray of metal fragments that shattered her window as the Boeing 737 climbed to cruising altitude.

Riordan’s plane, Flight 1380, which was taking her home from a trip to New York, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Kelly said the fan blade in the fatal fracture had not been tested under the more rigorous standards Southwest implemented after a virtually identical engine fan fracture almost two years ago.

In August 2016, on a Southwest flight from New Orleans to Atlanta, one of 24 blades on the twin-engine 737 broke off, punctured the fuselage just above the wing and depressurized the cabin. No one was reported injured.

“The inspections since then are different than the inspections that were occurring prior to the 2016 event,” Kelly said. “We are doing very frequent inspections [now], even though the fatigue of these blades is indeed rare, and though we have no findings from these most recent inspections, we will continue to do them.”

Since the 2016 incident, Southwest has been conducting ultrasonic examination of its fan blades. If that test suggests a problem, the fan blade is sent to GE for what is known as an eddy-current test, a process that uses electromagnetic induction to uncover subsurface flaws in metal.

Kelly said the fan blade in question had logged about 40,000 flights, about 10,000 of them since it last was inspected by GE.

“It had not been through an inspection with the ultrasonic or the eddy-current test,” Kelly said. “It would have been up for inspection later in 2018.”

He said the cracks in the 2016 incident and the April fatality were very similar.

“The stress was in the same, logical place toward the root of the fan blade,” Kelly said.

He said that Southwest had to cancel about 500 flights to carry out the inspections.

“The engine inspections are complete. The [negative] findings have been zero,” Kelly said.

Kelly said in the aftermath of the April incident he expected revenue to be down between 1 and 2 percent in the second quarter.

“Our flights are very full,” he said. …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World


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