Saturday, April 02, 2011

Landing, Las Vegas.
Southwest Grounds 79 Boeing 737s, Cancels 300 Flights After Fuselage Hole

By Mary Schlangenstein and Dan Hart - Apr 2, 2011 10:49 AM MT

Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV), the world’s biggest operator of Boeing Co. (BA) 737 jets, grounded 79 aircraft after a hole developed in a plane during flight, forcing an emergency landing. About 300 flights were canceled today.

Flight 812, with 118 passengers and five crew, was en route to Sacramento from Phoenix yesterday when a loss of cabin pressure caused oxygen masks to deploy and prompted a landing in Yuma, Arizona, Southwest said in a statement today.

“The carrier has decided to keep a subset of its Boeing 737 fleet out of the flying schedule to begin an aggressive inspection effort in cooperation with Boeing engineers,” Southwest said.

Metal fatigue was blamed for an 18-by-12 inch rip in a Southwest 737 last July while it was flying at 35,000 feet, also forcing an emergency landing. In January 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered fuselage checks for metal fatigue on 135 Boeing 737-300s, -400s and -500s in the U.S., after the planemaker recommended such checks in September 2009.

Passengers described a hole in the model 737-300 as being 1 foot (0.3 meters) wide by 3 feet long, said Linda Rutherford, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Southwest. A flight attendant and a passenger were injured, Rutherford said.

The plane will be 15 years old in June; its fuselage skin had been inspected on March 29 and Feb. 5, Rutherford said.

Top of Aircraft
An inspection by Flight 812 crew members in Yuma found a hole in the top of the aircraft, toward the middle of the cabin, the airline said. The tear found last July, in another 737-300, also was in the top of the fuselage, near the tail.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our primary concern, and we are grateful there were no serious injuries,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in the statement.

The airline is working with Boeing engineers “on an inspection regimen” that will look for “skin fatigue” on the aircraft over the next few days, Southwest said. The airline also is working with National Transportation Safety Board investigators who flew to Yuma, about 150 miles from Phoenix. The inspections will take place during the next several days at five locations, Southwest said.

Southwest has 552 737s in its fleet, Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said on March 22. According to the airline’s website, it had 171 737-300s, 25 737-500s and 352 737-700s as of Dec. 31, 2010. The average age of Southwest’s fleet of 737-300s was 19 years as of the end of 2010.

‘Fatigue Cracks’
In the July 2010 incident, “continuous fatigue cracks” on the inside of the fuselage helped create the hole, the safety board said. No passengers were injured. In March 2009, Southwest agreed to pay a $7.5 million fine for flying jets in 2006 and 2007 without some required fuselage inspections.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing a possible bullet hole in the fuselage of a US Airways Group Inc. (LCC) Boeing 737 on March 28. The nickel-size hole was discovered on the left side of the plane near the tail during a pilot’s preflight check at the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport. The jet, which had flown from Philadelphia with 84 passengers and five crew, has since returned to service, said Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokeswoman.

The hole in the US Airways plane extended from the jet’s skin into the cabin, Amy Thoreson, an FBI spokeswoman in Charlotte, said March 29.

On Oct. 26, 2010, an American Airlines Boeing 757-200 developed a hole in the fuselage while flying at 31,000 feet. The hole occurred just above the door on the left side near the front of the aircraft, causing a loss of pressure and forcing an emergency landing in Miami, where the flight began.

Separately yesterday, a partial loss of cabin pressure on American Airlines Flight 547 sickened six people on board and forced an emergency landing in Dayton, Ohio.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, landed in Dayton at 8:20 a.m., about an hour and 10 minutes after taking off from Washington’s Reagan National Airport en route to Chicago, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American, a unit of AMR Corp. (AMR)

To contact the reporters on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at; Dan Hart in Washington at

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