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FAA to review standards for older aircraft after fuselage tear in Southwest Airlines jet

April 6, 2011 |  2:30 pm

The damaged piece of the Boeing 737-300 fuselage.

In reaction to last week's emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines jet after a gash suddenly opened in its fuselage, the nation's top aviation official on Wednesday ordered a review of a Federal Aviation Administration program that oversees aging aircraft.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the review would examine whether regulators were using all available data to ensure that the oldest commercial aircraft were flying safely. The Southwest plane was a Boeing 737 that had averaged seven flights a day over its 15 years of operation.

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“Friday’s event was very serious,” Babbitt said. “I want to make absolutely certain that what we learn from this accident gets incorporated into our requirements for reviewing aging aircraft.”

During the last 20 years the FAA has developed an oversight program for older commercial aircraft, which has developed maintenance and design requirements to prevent metal fatigue. Babbitt said the program issued new rules just six months ago to help achieve that end.

Southwest Flight 812, with 118 people aboard, made an emergency landing Friday afternoon at Yuma International Airport in Arizona after the aluminum skin of the fuselage ripped open, causing the cabin to depressurize and oxygen masks to deploy. No one was seriously injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.


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-- Dan Weikel

Photo: Officials at the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington display a piece of the damaged fuselage from the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 that made an emergency landing Friday. Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters