Southwest challenged engine maker over speed of safety checks

US National Transportation Safety Board investigators examine damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines aircraft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (NTSB via Reuters)
Updated 20 April 2018
0

Southwest challenged engine maker over speed of safety checks

  • The proposed inspections would have cost $170 per engine for two hours of labor
  • Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly explained the airline’s maintenance procedures in a 59-second video posted to Twitter

WASHINGTON/PARIS: Southwest Airlines clashed with engine-maker CFM over the timing and cost of proposed inspections after a 2016 engine accident, months before the explosion this week of a similar engine on a Southwest jet that led to the death of a passenger, public documents showed.
The proposed inspections would have cost $170 per engine for two hours of labor, for a total bill to US carriers of $37,400, the US Federal Aviation Administration said in its August 2017 proposal, citing the engine manufacturer.
The documents reveal that airlines including Southwest thought the FAA had “vastly understated” the number of engines that would need to be inspected — and therefore the cost.
The documents are part of the public record on the FAA’s initial proposal for inspections and the response from airlines made in October, within the designated comment period.
The FAA and CFM International made the inspection recommendations after a Southwest flight in August 2016 made a safe emergency landing in Florida after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine. Debris ripped a foot-long hole above the left wing. Investigators found signs of metal fatigue.
On Tuesday, a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion on Southwest Airlines flight 1380, shattering a window of the Boeing 737 jet and killing a passenger. It was the first death in US airline service since 2009.
The FAA is not bound by any specified time periods in deciding whether to order inspections and must assess the urgency of each situation.
Southwest and other airlines in their responses in October objected to a call by CFM to complete all inspections within 12 months. The FAA proposed up to 18 months, backed by Southwest and most carriers. Southwest also told the FAA that only certain fan blades should be inspected, not all 24 in each engine.
“SWA does NOT support the CFM comment on reducing compliance time to 12 months,” Southwest wrote in an October submission.
CFM is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran.
Southwest said in its submission that the FAA’s proposal would force the carrier to inspect some 732 engines in one of two categories under review — much higher than the FAA’s total estimate of 220 engines across the whole US fleet.
“The affected engine count for the fleet in costs of compliance ... appears to be vastly understated,” it said.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said on Thursday that the comments “were to add further clarification on items included in the proposed AD (airworthiness directive).”
She said the company had satisfied CFM’s recommendations, but she did not immediately answer questions about how many engines had been inspected and whether the failed engine had been inspected.
Late on Thursday, Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly explained the airline’s maintenance procedures in a 59-second video posted to Twitter. He said the airline hires GE to do heavy overhaul or maintenance work on all of its engines.
“So GE provides the guidelines for maintenance inspections and repairs over the life of the engines,” he said.


The airline on Tuesday evening said it would conduct accelerated ultrasonic inspections of the fan blades on CFM56 engines within the next 30 days.
“In addition to our accelerated inspections we are meeting with GE and Boeing on a daily basis regarding the progress of the inspections and we will continue to work with them throughout the rest of the investigation,” Kelly said in the video.
The FAA said on Wednesday it would finalize the airworthiness directive it had proposed in August within two weeks. It will require inspections of some CFM56-7B engines. FAA officials acknowledged that the total number of engines affected could be higher than first estimated.
The FAA, which has issued more than 100 airworthiness directives just since the beginning of this year, has said that the time it takes to finalize directives depends on the complexity of the issue and the agency’s risk assessment based on the likelihood of occurrence and the severity of the outcome.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday that investigators would be on the scene into the weekend but declined any new comment on the investigation.
Investigators said one of the fan blades on Tuesday’s Southwest flight broke and fatigue cracks were found.


Airbus says it will obey WTO ruling on aircraft subsidies

Updated 22 min 8 sec ago
0

Airbus says it will obey WTO ruling on aircraft subsidies

PARIS: Airbus plans to set out measures that will bring it into line with a World Trade Organization ruling on subsidies for its A350 and A380 jets, a senior lawyer said on Tuesday.
The move comes after the US won the right to seek sanctions against EU goods following a partial victory in its 14-year legal battle against European government support for Airbus at the World Trade Organization.
The EU says it expects to strike a similar legal blow in a parallel case on US support for Boeing later this year.
“We will be announcing this morning a complete package of measures to fully comply with last week’s ruling, putting us basically at a point where we have nothing left to answer and no sanctions possible,” Karl Hennessee, senior vice president and head of litigation at Airbus, told BBC radio’s Today program.
The subsidies row coincides with transatlantic tensions over US aluminum and steel tariffs, and the impact on European firms from Washington’s decision to exit an Iran nuclear pact.
It is also part of a two-way battle between the EU and the US over aircraft subsidies that could spark tit-for-tat reprisals between the two trade superpowers.
In a rare public face-off between senior strategists in the dispute, Boeing’s chief external lawyer in the case told the same BBC program that the US would be free to target any European products, not just aerospace.
“The WTO will decide what the proper number is and ... give the US that authority,” Robert Novick, co-managing partner at US law firm WilmerHale, told the BBC Today program.
“In parallel, the US will develop a list of products on which it might consider imposing countermeasures,” he added.
The transatlantic dispute stems from mutual claims that the world’s two largest planemakers benefited from illegal subsidies in the form of subsidized government loans to Airbus and research grants or tax breaks to Boeing.
Underscoring the cost and complexity of the case, the two sides have been arguing since 2011 about whether they complied with earlier rulings.
Airbus did not say how it would comply with the final ruling on European aid but a European Commission document said it would repay an A350 loan to the UK government this year and reduce the drawdown of other loans.
It also said the bankruptcy of Russian carrier Transaero, resulting in fewer A380 deliveries, had helped it to comply, while other aid been blunted by the passage of time — an argument that has previously been rejected by the US.
Hennessee also called for a settlement similar to one between Canada and Brazil that set the tone for global plane financing.