Airlines to inspect Boeing 737s after US regulator says some jets may have defective parts

Move comes amid heightened scrutiny of the 737 Max’s safety

FILE PHOTO: A 737 Max aircraft is pictured at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019.  REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo
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Airlines will start inspecting their Boeing 737 family aircraft after the US aviation regulator highlighted wing defects in some jets, adding to the plane maker’s woes amid heightened global scrutiny of the 737 Max’s safety.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said up to 148 wing parts of 312 jets may be defective, making them prone to cracks or premature failure, and need to be replaced within 10 days. Flydubai, the UAE’s sole operator of 737s, said it will conduct inspections of some of its 14 grounded Max jets while the previous model of the aircraft is unaffected.

“Boeing has informed Flydubai that there will be a Service Bulletin issued regarding the manufacturing of components of the wing that will need to be replaced,” a Flydubai spokeswoman said on Monday. “Seven of Flydubai’s Boeing 737 Max aircraft, which are currently grounded, will have the slat track assemblies inspected and, if required, replaced in line with the Service Bulletin. Flydubai’s 46 Next-Generation Boeing 737 aircraft are not affected.”

The so-called slat tracks are used to guide the slats located on the leading edge of a plane’s wings. The FAA announcement comes as US and global regulators scrutinise the safety certification process that led to approval of the 737 Max for commercial flight. Since March, countries worldwide grounded the Max after the model was involved in two fatal crashes within five months in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people.

Star Alliance, a global airlines group, said operators and regulators are still trying to understand the issue and the possible fix but that the fresh problems should be examined in the light of the dual deadly disasters.

"This is new and everyone is trying to understand the nature of the issues and potential remedies, airlines and regulators have to understand the nature of it," Jeffrey Goh, chief executive of Star Alliance, told The National on the sidelines of the annual meeting of global airlines in Seoul. "We expect this to be fed into the general discussions about the cause of the two crashes. It must be looked at holistically."

Star Alliance counts among its members 737 operators such as Air Canada, Air China and United.

Boeing informed the FAA that the so-called leading edge slats on 737 Next-Generation (NG) and 737 Max may have been improperly manufactured and may not meet all requirements for safety and durability, the regulator said.

Boeing identified groups of both 737 NG and 737 Max plane serial numbers on which these suspect parts may have been installed, the FAA said. The parts are on 133 of the NG jets and 179 Max aircraft worldwide, of which in the US 32 NG and 33 Max are affected.

“Although a complete failure of a leading edge slat track would not result in the loss of the aircraft, a risk remains that a failed part could lead to aircraft damage in flight,” the FAA said.

The FAA will issue a directive to the jet’s operators to identify and remove the discrepant parts from service.

Boeing has contacted 737 operators advising them to inspect the slat track assemblies on certain planes and is sending replacement parts to its customers’ bases to help reduce aircraft downtime, it said in a statement on its website.

The replacement work should take one to two days once the replacement parts are available, it said.

The planemaker identified  21 737 NGs and 20 737 Maxs that are “most likely” to have the suspect parts, though the entire number of jets must be inspected, it said.

Iata called for coordinated action among global regulators for the safe return of the Max to the skies.

“We are asking regulators for collaboration, alignment and transparency to be sure of the entry into service in the best conditions,” Alexandre de Juniac, Iata director general said on Monday during the group’s annual meeting in Seoul.

“In five to seven weeks, we will meet with the regulators, the manufacturer to assess the situation and to ensure these elements are fulfilled in the best manner.”