FAA hastens checks of Boeing 737s

Newer Boeing Co. 737 jets must be inspected sooner than first ordered because a problem with loose parts might be more widespread than originally believed, U.S. regulators told eight airlines.

Tuesday night the Federal Aviation Administration shortened to 10 days from 24 the time airlines have to check the 737 wings. Officials have said that loose wing parts could have caused a fire that destroyed a China Airlines plane this month.

The order, which covers 783 Boeing 737s operated by U.S. carriers, was changed after two additional reports of parts coming off wings' main slat tracks, which allow parts on the front of the wings to slide back and forth, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said Wednesday. He didn't know which carrier or carriers found the loose parts.

Slats slide out from the front edge of the wings during takeoff and landing to help stabilize the aircraft, along with flaps that extend from the wings' rear edge.

"We're fully in support of that call and we've been working closely with the FAA on this," said Jim Proulx, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing. "We will continue to work with the FAA and the airlines."

The Aug. 20 fire on a China Airlines Boeing 737-800A probably was caused by a loose wing-slat bolt that punctured a fuel tank, trade publication Air Transport World reported last week, citing Japanese safety investigators. All 165 passengers and crew members escaped the fire, which began after the plane landed in Okinawa, Japan.

Boeing 737 models covered by the FAA inspection order are operated by Southwest Airlines Co., AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., AirTran Holdings Inc., Alaska Air Group Inc., ATA Holdings Corp. and Aloha Airlines.

Representatives of Southwest, Continental, American, Delta and AirTran said they would meet the new inspection deadline.

Southwest, which has more than a third of the planes covered by the FAA order, finished inspections Tuesday night and found no loose parts, spokeswoman Beth Harbin said. Flight schedules weren't affected, she said. Southwest has 280 of the targeted 737s.

Continental will be "fully compliant" with the FAA's new deadline for inspections of the 153 planes the carrier is reviewing, said spokeswoman Julie King. Continental hasn't found any problems in inspections completed so far, she said.

American completed 19 of 77 inspections and isn't disclosing results, spokesman John Hotard said. The reviews haven't affected service, he said.

Delta Air Lines will finish the inspections of its 71 737-800s ahead of the 10-day requirement without any schedule disruptions, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said.

AirTran, based in Orlando, also will meet the FAA deadline "well in advance," spokesman Dave Hirschman said. AirTran has 50 737s.

Operators of the Boeing 737-600s, -700s, -700Cs, -800s, -900s and -900ERs must verify that the wing parts are properly assembled, Dorr said. If they are, the operators can wait 24 days to use a torque wrench to tighten nuts and bolts, he said.

Before the order was revised, operators had 24 days to inspect and tighten the bolts.


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