Scrutiny Lags as Jetliners Show the Effects of Age

April 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Aviation Law Current Event | Leave a comment

by Sara M. Langston with the blog faculty

Source: NY Times

After the 1988 Aloha Airlines 737 incident when the cabin roof ripped off the plane, Federal Regulators and Boeing investigated and thought they solved the problem of aircraft metal fatigue.

But the five-foot hole in the roof of a Southwest Airlines 737 this month and other recent incidents indicated that they had not. In fact, a stream of safety directives from the Federal Aviation Administration in the years since the Aloha incident shows that structural cracks from metal fatigue remain a persistent problem on older planes.

Safety experts say that the industry and regulators rely far too much on a patchwork of rules that are largely reactive: each time a problem in one part of the plane is found, inspectors add that area to their checklists. Late last year, the F.A.A. itself acknowledged the seriousness of the issue when, for the first time, it issued a rule to set flying limits for aging aircraft. “The potential for catastrophic structural failure,” it said, “is very significant.”

Even so, the F.A.A. took more than four years to write the rule, as airlines objected that it would reduce the value of their planes and force them to ground some they thought could still fly. In response, the F.A.A. toned down the rule, extending a deadline for plane makers to come up with the lifetime limits.

F.A.A. and industry officials say they are reviewing their policies on aging planes. But they note that fatigue problems have not caused any deaths on jetliners since the Aloha accident, even with millions of flights a year in the United States. [Full story]

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