Bloomberg reported that Southwest Airlines Co. has stepped up engine inspections in the wake of the mid-air engine blowout that cost a passenger her life and also led to an emergency landing that put the lives of everyone on board the aircraft in jeopardy.
The discount carrier is known for its quirky humor and strong safety record and is now dealing with its first accident that has led to the death of a passenger in the company’s 47 year history. Southwest Airlines’ flight 1380, scheduled to fly from New York to Dallas on Tuesday had to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia’s airport after the aircraft’s engine blew out.
As the left engine blew out, its debris penetrated one of the windows of the airplane, causing the plane to lose pressure and partially suck out the woman sitting next to the window. This passenger, Jennifer Riordan, died because of the accident, while another 7 passengers were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been conducting an investigation into what caused the accident. In a Tuesday briefing of the accident, the NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt stated that it was the airplane’s left engine that had caused the accident. According to the investigation so far, it has been revealed that one of the fan blades in the engine broke off and escaped its casing.
Sumwalt also stated that a part of the engine’s cowling had broken off and was recovered around 75 miles away from the Philadelphia airport where the plane landed. The fuselage was also damaged in this accident.
Sumwalt said that there were clear signs of metal fatigue where the blade broke off. Metal fatigue is a technical terms for weakness in the metal due to wear and tear caused by repeated use. Basically, it got old and weak. This is the second time such a defect has been noticed. In 2016, a turbine blade broke off mid-air in another Southwest Airlines flight, which also forced an emergency landing but thankfully did not result in any injuries.
Both these accidents involved the CFM56-7B engine which is manufactured by CFM International. This particular engine is extensively used in Southwest Airlines’ fleet. This model is popular with the aviation industry as a whole, with more than 6,700 planes fitted with this engine the world over.
CFM International is a joint venture between American company General Electric and French Safran Aircraft Engines. CFM has sent its technical team to assist with the investigations.
The engine that cause this accident was fitted on Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737-700 in July 2000. According to the airlines’ Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly, the airplane’s engines had been inspected on Sunday and the inspection report did not indicate that there was anything wrong.
He also stated that the CFM turbofan is one of the most widely used engines and has collected upwards of 350 million fight hours on more than 6,700 planes since the engine was launched in 1997. Kelly said that it would be premature to link other engine failures in the past to this incident.
The CFM56-7B is used in all of Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 planes. The majority of the airlines’ fleet is made up of the smaller Boeing 737-700 143-seater aircraft and have an average age of 14 years.
Immediately after the accident occurred, Southwest Airlines announced that it was stepping up its inspection of all the engines in its fleet through ultrasonic scanning and would complete this exercise within the next 30 days.
The airlines share prices fell by 1.1% after this accident.