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
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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.


Japan exports fall for first time since 2016 as trade war fears mount

Updated 28 min 48 sec ago
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Japan exports fall for first time since 2016 as trade war fears mount

  • Japanese policymakers remain wary about the overall economic impact of the international trade frictions
  • The US-Sino tariff row has yet to materially hurt trade activity

TOKYO: Japan’s exports fell in September for the first time since 2016 as shipments to the US and China declined, likely impeding third quarter economic growth and adding to concerns about the broadening impact of an escalating Sino-US trade war.
The data comes days after a Reuters poll showed a third of Japanese companies — not just exporters — have been affected by the trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies, and more than half worried about its fallout on their business.
Japanese policymakers also remain wary about the overall economic impact of the international trade frictions. A string of natural disasters that struck Japan has added to the strain on factories, disrupting output and physical distribution.
The US-Sino tariff row has yet to materially hurt trade activity, but a slowdown in external demand has bolstered views that Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, likely slowed sharply in the July-September quarter.
“The economy probably grew only slightly in the third quarter, led by firm consumption and brisk capex. External demand likely made no contribution,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.
“Assuming the US-China trade frictions have widespread effects on global trade, Japan’s exports will struggle to grow.”
Minami said declines in shipments to the US and China — the two key export destinations for Japan — are a source of concern as each of them accounts for about 20 percent of Japanese exports, respectively.
Ministry of Finance (MOF) data out on Thursday showed Japanese exports fell 1.2 percent in September from a year earlier, against a 1.9 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 6.6 percent gain in August.
It was the first decline since November 2016.
In volume terms, exports fell 4.8 percent in the year to September, the first drop in seven months.
Japan’s exports to the US declined 0.2 percent in the year to September, dragged down by falling shipments of construction and mining machinery, auto parts and medicines.
US-bound auto exports amounted to some 143,000 cars, down 7.0 percent year-on-year in a snapback from the previous year’s brisk shipments, a sign that car sales have levelled off.
Imports from the US rose 3.1 percent in September, led by crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, helping reduce Japan’s trade surplus with the US by 4.0 percent year-on-year to ¥590 billion ($5.24 billion).
The US Trade Representative’s office told Congress on Tuesday it would open trade talks with Japan, describing the country as an important yet underperforming market for US exports.
Tokyo and Washington last month agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that, for now, avoids the worst-case scenario of an imminent 25 percent tariff on cars.
Trump has made clear he is unhappy with Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the US — nearly two-thirds of it from auto exports — and wants a two-way agreement to address it.
Tokyo pushed back on a straight bilateral Free Trade Agreement that Washington had sought, fearing it could put Japan under pressure to open politically sensitive sectors such as agriculture.
Thursday’s trade data showed exports to China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, fell 1.7 percent in the year to September, the first decline in seven months, dragged down by semiconductor production equipment.
Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s overall exports, rose 0.9 percent.
Overall imports rose 7.0 percent in the year to September, versus the median estimate for a 13.7 percent annual increase.
The trade balance was surplus of ¥139.6 billion, compared with the median estimate for a shortfall of ¥50 billion.
“External demand has likely put a drag on Japan’s economy,” said Koya Miyamae, senior economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.
“Going forward, exports may recover from supply constraints, but effects from slowdown in emerging markets, and the US-China trade war remain a source of concern.”