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By Alison Sider
Qantas Airways Ltd. became the latest airline to ground some older Boeing Co. 737s for structural cracks, another headache for the plane maker grappling with the global grounding of the newer MAX model.
Qantas Airways said it found three aircraft with hairline cracks in the "pickle fork," a component located between the plane's wing and fuselage. The Australian airline said it accelerated its checks and finished precautionary inspections of the 33 planes that required examination. The three affected planes have been taken out of service for repair. The carrier's main airline unit had 75 Boeing 737s as of June.
Boeing notified the Federal Aviation Administration of the potential issue after detecting cracks in this component on three 737-800s it was converting to freighters. The FAA earlier in October mandated urgent structural inspections of Boeing 737 NG models that had completed more than 30,000 takeoff and landing cycles, along with subsequent checks and repairs, as necessary, of other NG jets that had flown 22,600 cycles.
The potential cracks "could adversely affect the structural integrity of the airplane and result in loss of control," according to the FAA's directive.
Qantas said it would work to minimize any customer impact.
Boeing didn't immediately respond to request for comment Thursday. The plane maker previously has said cracking was identified on about 5% of the 686 planes that had been inspected as of Oct. 9. The company said in a securities filing last week that inspections have been completed on all of the planes that have completed more than 30,000 cycles and about a third of the other planes specified in the FAA's order.
While the cracking has affected a relatively small number of planes, it represents another problem for carriers that already are contending with a reduced fleet due to the grounding of the 737 MAX. The MAX has been grounded around the world since March in the wake of two fatal accidents.
Brazilian carrier GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes had to ground 11 jets after discovering cracking, it said earlier in October. The airline said Thursday that 3% of customers who were scheduled to travel between Oct. 10 and Dec. 15 were re-accommodated as a result and that all maintenance will be finished within 45 days.
Southwest Airlines Co. also took three planes out of service for repair after performing its inspections, a spokeswoman said. The airline, which has a fleet of around 750 planes, has finished inspecting the aircraft covered by the FAA's directive and said it decided to continue looking at all of its NG models. Southwest said it is working with Boeing on repairs and doesn't have a timeline for when the three affected planes will return to service.
Aviation consultant IBA Group estimated repairs could cost up to $275,000 a plane with as many as 2,500 aircraft being inspected.
Less than a handful of U.S. planes are affected, according to the FAA. Other U.S. carriers including American Airlines Group Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. have said they haven't found any cracking on the planes the planes they have inspected so far.
--Mike Cherney, Doug Cameron and Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 31, 2019 21:51 ET (01:51 GMT)
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