FAA orders more frequent airplane engine inspections after deadly accident

Southwest Airlines says it's already following stricter plane engine inspection guidelines that the Federal Aviation Administration mandated today.

The FAA air-worthiness directive says the fan blades on certain turbine engines must be inspected almost twice as frequently as previously recommended. It's the latest in a series of orders following the accident earlier this year that killed a Southwest passenger when a fan blade on an engine disintegrated in midair. This airworthiness directive just came out, but Southwest told us today that the airline has already implemented these new inspection requirements.

"What happened back in April was completely needless," said aviation attorney Ron Mccallum, " So if this is the fix everyone thinks needs to be done, then go do it."

Mccallum said he rarely sees the Federal Aviaition Administration call anything flat out unsafe, like the FAA did in this airworthiness directive, regarding the inspection process for engines that power nearly 2,000 older Boeing 737s, and some air buses. The directive, which goes into effect in two weeks, requires airlines to inspect General Electric's CFM-65 engines almost twice as often, inspecting them every 1,600 flights, rather than every 3,000, and inspecting each individual blade.

This is in direct response to the accident that caused the the death of passenger Jennifer Riordan on a Southwest flight from New York to Dallas in April. One of the engine's metal fan blades on Flight 1380 broke off mid-flight. Ultrasound testing revealed that the blade had a microsopic crack in it, caused by metal fatigue, and was defective.

"I think it's eventually going to come out that there was a lot of knowledge between the engine manufacturer," said Mccallum, "and perhaps other parties that this was a problem that was going to eventually become a very big problem, like what we saw in April."

Not long after the crash, Fox 4 learned that Southwest did not follow the manufacturer's recommendations to do this kind of testing for microscopic cracks. The Southwest CEO said at the time that Southwest had too many 737's in its fleet to conduct the inspections in a timely manner.
In a statement to Fox 4 Monday, Southwest says it has a fleet of 750 planes and in June, began doing the inspections with the frequency the FAA directive mandates and will continue to do so. There are several lawsuits against Southwest filed by passengers of the flight that killed Jennifer Riordan.
Fox 4 contacted her attorney for comment, but he declined.