Qantas Engineers: ‘Ground 737NG’s now’

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Qantas engineers have found more of the pickle fork cracks in a second Boeing 737NG operated by the airline.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association is asking Qantas to ground all of its 75 aircraft of the type so that each one can be properly inspected.

Boeing has identified up to 1,000 aircraft that could have the problem, but says that only 5% –  50 aircraft have shown any issues. Even so 50 aircraft is 50 aircraft too many and nobody wants another MAX style disaster.

The pickle fork is an area that ensures the overall integrity of the way the wing joins the fuselage, and yesterday Qantas was said to be inspecting up to 33 of its aircraft. Guidelines suggest it should only be older aircraft – especially those with over 30,000 flight hours logged.

There’s now the usual tussle between managers, who can’t face the costly problems of grounding the fleet and consider it irresponsible to do so when Boeing says its not a disaster waiting to happen, and engineers who say it is.

The engineers feel that the cracking is happening in an area so structurally important to the airframe that high fuel and passenger loads pose an undue risk to the flying public. Australian domestic flights are out of necessity, often longer ranged than most and tend to carry more fuel.

Of more concern is that Qantas doesn’t have airframes with more than 30,000 hours, so the inspection guidelines now need revision for what could well be a far wider problem. Boeing will not be happy if another major 737 issue spreads to thousands more aircraft.

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Qantas has found cracks in aircraft with 22,600 hours so the margin for inspections is already vastly wider than previously thought.

To date, Southwest and Korean Air have found the most – Korean has grounded nine aircraft.

The problem for Boeing is that it doesn’t seem to be restricted to certain serial numbers or a particular batch of components, and the company told Reuters that it was evaluating expanding the investigations to a wider range of aircraft.

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