Both Qantas Airways and Southwest Airlines are tightening their inspection protocols to look for cracks in key structural members of the Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft. As we previously reported, operators were finding cracks in the so-called pickle fork, a structural member that joins the wing and fuselage of the 737, well short of the design life of the component. Designed for 90,000 cycles, some operators were finding cracks in aircraft with 35,000 cycles.
Now, Qantas and Southwest have found NGs with just fewer than 27,000 cycles to exhibit cracking of the pickle fork. Qantas will begin inspecting its 33 NGs with more than 22,600 cycles. Southwest’s inspections revealed an aircraft with cracks at 28,500 cycles, according to Reuters, and will expand its inspections to all of its NG fleet. Reuters is reporting that Southwest has already pulled three 737s from service to repair the component.
The current Airworthiness Directive (AD 2019-20-02), which became effective on Oct. 3, requires inspections of aircraft “prior to the accumulation of 30,000 total flight cycles, or within 7 days after the effective date of this AD, whichever occurs later.” Or, “prior to the accumulation of 22,600 total flight cycles, or within 1,000 flight cycles after the effective date of this AD, whichever occurs later.”