Southwest Airlines returned to its regular schedule today after finishing inspections on 77 Boeing 737-300s for fatigue cracking. The airline found “minor” subsurface cracking on two more airplanes yesterday, bringing the total to five airplanes that must remain out of service until Boeing recommends appropriate repairs and Southwest completes them.
The FAA plans to issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) tomorrow that will require operators of specific early Boeing 737 models to conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage, the agency announced this afternoon.
Boeing plans to issue a Service Bulletin to describe inspection techniques for Boeing 737s similar to the Southwest Airlines 737-300 whose fuselage skin ruptured while on a scheduled flight from Phoenix to Sacramento on April 1. Flight 812 diverted to Yuma, Ariz., for an emergency landing at 5:07 p.m. after a hole developed in the top of fuselage.
Southwest Airlines has grounded 79 (not 81 as was previously reported) of its Boeing 737s as it began working with Boeing and the NTSB to determine the cause of a “depressurization event” during a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento on Friday afternoon. The airplane diverted to Yuma, Ariz., for an emergency landing at 5:07 p.m. local time after a hole developed in the top of fuselage.
While the general aviation industry has suffered recently, demand for GA products and services will continue to grow, paced by new business jets and light sport aircraft, the FAA told attendees at its annual aerospace forecast.
"Business aviation shows signs of rebounding," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. "And weπre projecting growth in general aviation sectors, particularly in the jet and light sport aircraft sectors."
Southwest Airlines expects to take delivery of its first Boeing 737-800 in March 2012, the company’s chairman, president and CEO, Gary Kelly, revealed during a Wings Club luncheon in New York City today. The airline plans to substitute order position on twenty 737-700s for slots on the same number of 737-800s. It remains in negotiations with Boeing over the precise terms, including configuration and equipment options.
The consolidation of the airline industry extended to the low-fare segment in dramatic fashion this morning, as Southwest Airlines announced that it has agreed to acquire all the outstanding common stock of AirTran Holdings for a combination of cash and Southwest Airlines common stock.
The NTSB is investigating the April 28 incident at Houston Hobby in which a Bell 407 operated by Helicopters, Inc. and a Southwest Airlines 737 nearly collided. Both aircraft were departing in day VFR.
The FAA today approved a plan that would require Southwest Airlines to replace unapproved parts installed on about 50 Boeing 737s–roughly 10 percent of its fleet–and for the aircraft to undergo inspections until the airline completes the fixes. The airline already has replaced parts on 30 other airplanes.
Republic Airways, on July 31, completed its acquisition of Midwest Airlines, then won a bid last month for Frontier Airlines after Southwest Airlines withdrew when talks between the airlines’ pilots for a new labor deal stalled. Republic paid $6 million in cash and has issued a $25 million five-year note convertible to Republic stock at $10 a share for Midwest. It bid $108.75 million for Frontier.