The FAA has ordered operators of some of the hard-working fleet of Boeing 737NGs to conduct inspections for cracks in a critical structural assembly that have shown up in some NGs. Boeing found cracks in a plane that had about 35,000 cycles on it, less than half the 90,000 that the “pickle fork” is designed to last. The pickle fork is the main structural attachment between the wings and the fuselage and is supposed to last the life of the aircraft. Cracks were found in a few other aircraft. It’s not clear how many of the 7,000 NGs in service will need to take a break for the inspections but Boeing says it’s spreading the word. “Over the coming days, we will work closely with our customers to implement a recommended inspection plan for certain airplanes in the fleet,” the company told the BBC in a statement. It’s also not clear what the potential fix might entail and how long it would take an aircraft out of service.
The FAA said Boeing found the cracks “while conducting modifications on a heavily used aircraft” and that a “small number” of other NGs had similar issues. The inspections will apply to 700-, 800- and 900-series aircraft. The cracks are not an issue for MAXes or the P-8 Poseidon. Boeing said it would “instruct operators to conduct specific inspections, make any necessary repairs and to report their findings to the agency immediately.” About 400 MAXes in service were grounded after two catastrophic crashes linked to the aircraft’s flight control software and operators of the type have leased or bought virtually all the spare NGs on the used market to fill the schedule gaps left by the MAX grounding. A widespread disruption of NG availability would have a major impact on airlines everywhere.