DALLAS, TX — April 7, 2011 — Southwest Airlines said today that it has completed all aircraft inspections in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airworthiness Directive (AD) that was released on Tuesday, April 5. The airline began operating a normal schedule Tuesday morning and does not anticipate the directive impacting the schedule moving forward.
During the airline’s thorough inspections of aircraft this week, minor subsurface cracking was found on five Southwest aircraft which will remain out of service until Boeing’s recommended repairs are complete. As of today, Boeing has provided repair instructions for all five of the impacted aircraft, which includes the removal and replacement of an 18-inch section of the lap joint. Southwest’s Maintenance and Engineering Department has begun the repair process, with each repair taking 8 to 16 hours to complete. The airline anticipates returning four of the five aircraft back into service by Saturday (pending the appropriate FAA approvals), with one aircraft remaining in previously scheduled maintenance. The incident aircraft has been released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) but the airline does not have a repair update at this time.
Based on information from the NTSB investigation and inspections performed since the event, Boeing has asked operators of certain 737-300/-400/-500 airplanes at or above 30,000 flight cycles to inspect certain lap joints. Although Southwest does operate a small number of 737-500 aircraft, the FAA’s Airworthiness Directive focuses on a particular set of 737-500 airplanes which are not included in the Southwest fleet.
“Now that our inspections are complete and the FAA has issued an AD for the rest of the world-wide 737 fleet, our focus shifts to completing the repairs and getting the aircraft back into service,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Our event, though obviously not what we would want to happen, is ultimately working to improve the effectiveness of 737 inspections and maintenance programs world-wide.”
After the April 1 incident, Southwest immediately and voluntarily discontinued flying a portion of the Boeing 737-300s in its fleet prior to any government or manufacturer mandate.