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Southwest Flight 812 not the first to suffer fuselage tearing

Southwest Flight 812, which suffered a fuselage rupture and rapid decompression before landing safely Friday, is not the first aircraft in the airline's fleet to experience such problems. 

In 2009, a foot-long hole opened in the top of a jet while it was cruising at 30,000 feet, forcing an emergency landing in West Virginia.

That same year, the airline was fined $7.5 million by the FAA for nearly 60,000 flights for which planes had not undergone required inspections for fuselage cracks.

“Given Southwest’s history, this raises a real concern,” said Jim Hall, an airline safety consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Everyone knows they pound those airplanes hard.”

The structural integrity of aging airline fleets has been an issue since 1988, when cracks caused the roof of an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 to peel away while on its way to Honolulu. A flight attendant was sucked out of the depressurized craft and dozens of passengers were injured.

The incident led to stricter inspection regulations, but through the years a number of airlines have had incidents where weakened fuselages tore apart in mid-air.

The FAA earlier this year implemented new rules requiring additional structural inspections of Boeing 757 and 737 aircraft. The agency  rejected Southwest’s request for more time to complete inspections, which the company said would require “out-of-sequence maintenance” that would cause “a significant burden.”

Southwest’s fleet of 548 aircraft is made up of Boeing 737s; the plane that tore open Friday is 15 years old, according to FAA records.

Hall said that commercial aircraft used more for short-haul flights common throughout Southwest’s flight schedule are more prone to structural stress than long-haul aircraft.

“They  get pressurized and depressurized on a more frequent basis,” he said.

According to Southwest's website, its fleet has an average age of just over 11 years. Each aircraft flies an average of six flights a day, with an average trip length of 648 miles and average time duration of just under two hours.

-- Mike Anton

 
Comments () | Archives (19)

This is not rocket science. It is take offs and landings that stress an aircraft most. It sounds like the inspections for this issue need to be based on trips taken not miles flown.
Southwest are hard on their planes, Aloha apparently also fly a lot of short flights, they both seem to have had these incidents in the past.
I will be avoiding this airline in the future myself. Overworking older planes for more profits is not my idea of a safe airline.

The real problem is

1) SW's deferred maintenance which the FAA tagged them on before

2) SW run's an air-fleet like Greyhound runs busses. Something's gotta give... and that means planes will start falling out of the sky when the cumulative fleet age reaches 15-20 years.

This has happened to Eastern, Delta, TWA and Northwest in years past.
So, this incident of metal fatigue is a lucky warning. The entire SW fleet is exhausted and they're stretching a dollar.

As an experienced air traveller for decades now... I always say a prayer when getting on SW and try to fly another carrier whenever feasible.

The 737 is a workhorse aircraft, with that being said SWA maint,sucks big time and because of the many flights that each plane flies per day (6) they need to be inspected more often. I have friends who fly for American and United and they told me they are not comfortable flying on SWA flights to make their flights and connections for many safety reasons. Also, SWA pilots are generally not as experienced or have the flight hours that many other pilots for larger airlines have. You will see more of this type of incident happen or worse in months to come

The 737 is a workhorse aircraft, with that being said SWA maint,sucks big time and because of the many flights that each plane flies per day (6) they need to be inspected more often. I have friends who fly for American and United and they told me they are not comfortable flying on SWA flights to make their flights and connections for many safety reasons. Also, SWA pilots are generally not as experienced or have the flight hours that many other pilots for larger airlines have. You will see more of this type of incident happen or worse in months to come

737 the DC-3 of the Jet Age. Wonderful aircraft. I hope the issues are addressed.

At an air show in Reno several years ago, a Thunderbird team ground support member told me that in one year at least eleven wings had been replaced on those high performance jets. I have no reason to doubt his statement, but, of course I don't know how many aircraft were involved. His point was: they do take a beating.

ALL airlines are cutting back!
Metal wares-out, metal fatigue, even the shuttle!

Flexing metal breaks! We did it as kids in school, keep bending it back and forth and it breaks, just like wire, we've done it.

Guess they figure its cheaper to pay off the relatives than maintain the planes?

Stanford engineers put a damper on 'aeroelastic flutter'
March 28, 2011 − Stanford University
Watch Video on This Article

Anyone who has ever flown knows the feeling: an otherwise smooth flight gets a little choppy. If you are lucky, the plane skips a few times like a rock across a pond and then settles. For the not-so-lucky, the captain has turned on that seatbelt sign for a reason, but even the worst turbulence usually fades.
http://www.sciencenewsline.com/technology/2011032810130000.html

More expensive government intrusion through increased regulations of private companies will only drive up airline costs for consumers.
Liberals love to inject more government inspections whenever accidents happen.
In reality who is more qualified to decide when their fleet of planes need to undergo safety inspections than the Airlines themselves.

More expensive government intrusion through increased regulations of private companies will only drive up airline costs for consumers.
Liberals love to inject more government inspections whenever accidents happen.
In reality who is more qualified to decide when their fleet of planes need to undergo safety inspections than the Airlines themselves.

The title has a misspelling... how can we trust the story ? Did you fire all the editors?

Listen, the airlines are in business to make a profit, and the government should keeps it's regulatory-nose out of it. Let business flourish. Jobs. Wealth. We need it. After all, real , patriotic Americans do not want government interference in their lives or in business.

I'm sure that anyone sucked out of a pressurized aircraft at 30,000 feet has an scenic view, for a few seconds.

What matters is cycles. One takeoff and one landing equals one cycle. Each cycle pressurizes and depressurizes the cabin. An average of six cycles a day for 15 years is 32,850 cycles. The aircraft logs will show exactly how many cycles that aircraft has undergone.

Carriers are always pushing the limits between safety and economy of operation and it is the responsibility of the FAA to make sure the air carriers err on the side of safety. The aircraft to watch are the ones with the most time in air and greatest number of cycles and they are not necessarily the same airframe. The fleet leaders in each class will disclose what failures to look for. Periodic inspection is an essential part of that process. Proper oversight by the regulators is also essential.

Honestly with the cost and liability I don't understand why anyone would start or run an airline business in the first place. The profits are razor thin the equipment expensive the legal liability is fatal.It seems some kind of honor code that keeps businesses like airline companies going not profit because few make any profit. Wall Street values their stock as slightly above junk bonds. At the same time utterly depending on the service provided by airline companies to survive itself. Fuel companies are preditory no other way to put it.Where's the logic? Bust the airline for maintaince violations and fine them but don't drop 31,000 people off at the bus stop with a kiss my boot. Unless the goal is to kill Southwest Airlines. Let's make 737's illegal!

I was on board a Continental flight when this very thing happened. Except we weren't at 11,000 feet. We were well over 30,000 feet and we dropped like a rock. I hit my head on an armrest and both ear drums ruptured. They had an ambulance waiting when we landed in Houston, but they also said I would have to pay for the medical care myself. If I could later prove the symptoms were caused by Continental, then they would reimburse me. I didn't have health insurance - I couldn't afford the ambulance, much less a trip to the ER! But they wouldn't allow me to leave the plane until I signed a waiver stating I "refused" medical care. I was sick, dizzy, suffering a concussion and in shock. What choice did I have? I signed. Bastards. I don't know if the records still exist, but it was a Denver/Houston red eye in late October of 1995. I'm wondering how many other times this happened when the media doesn't pick up on it? How many other sick and hurt people do they bully like this?

And just last week the Republican House passed a bill on a party line vote slashing funds for the FAA, and demanding dramatic reductions in all the burdensome regulations that are making it tough for airlines. Less money for inspection enforcement, less money for inspectors, less money to upgrade flight controller computers and software that was outdated 20 years ago - all further examples of the nasty "big government" the fruitcakes and nuts have pledged to their ignorant and propagandized constituents they will bring to an end.

It's apparently "socialist" to recognize the irrefutable facts of the last 100 years and acknowledge that virtually no industry can be trusted to protect people when it will impinge on share prices and executive compensation.

Still want to fly?

google ' Southwest outsource maintenance '. Airlines started sending their jets to third world countries for scheduled maintenance years ago.

Another shining example of corporate greed.

More job-killing regulation is not the answer; patriotic airline customers need to evolve parachute skin and stay physically fit.

Of course liberals will then complain about the occasional passenger scaring birds on the way down.

"More expensive government intrusion through increased regulations of private companies will only drive up airline costs for consumers.
Liberals love to inject more government inspections whenever accidents happen."


This is not a political issue. It’s a safety issue, and a serious one. The best course of action will not be found by injecting political rancor into what is essentially a technical issue -- unless Southwest is out of complacence with federal regulations -- then the issue is legal as well as technical. Best to keep emotional, political opinions out of the discourse, nakusthin.


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