FAA orders widespread jet inspections

April 5, 2011 9:48:39 AM PDT
The air travel experience for most passengers at Chicago's Midway Airport seemed uninterrupted Tuesday after the FAA ordered airplane inspections worldwide.

The FAA issued an emergency safety order Tuesday requiring some older Boeing 737 aircraft to undergo testing for hidden metal fatigue. The order applies to approximately 175 aircraft worldwide. Eighty of them are registered in the United States, and Southwest Airlines owns most of those jets.

Chicago's Midway Airport is Southwest Airlines' largest hub. However, the airline's flight board listed all flights on time Tuesday morning. The ticket counter had a steady stream of travelers, most not too concerned with the threat of more Boeing 737 planes being at risk of metal fatigue.

"I'm not too worried about it. If there's any problems, I'm sure we'll know about it," said passenger Terry Warren, who was heading home to Jacksonville.

Another passenger, Kimberly Metzger, was escorting her niece to a Southwest flight to travel by herself.

"I'm not concerned. I feel that they would be pulling the planes --this specific plane that we're going on-- if there were any problems," Metzger said.

Southwest has been performing its own inspections since one of its jets tore apart mid-flight last week. A Southwest flight that passed through Midway ripped open last Friday, leaving a 5-ft. hole when it was flying above Arizona. The plane landed safely in Yuma. However, fatigue cracks have been found in at least five other 737 jets.

"I think they just have to take a look at these planes that are older to make sure they're ok," said Linda Bagott.

" Some of the planes are outdated. So, there should always be routine checks," Vernon Hutton said.

Each day, a typical short, 737-300 -- like the Southwest jet that developed the hole-- can make numerous takeoffs and landings. The resulting changes in cabin pressure put stress on the jet's metal skin. Over time, it can develop tiny cracks.

The pressure problems in the airplane's metal skin are now being spotted with a new form of inspection technology, which means the old method may have been insufficient.

A handful of Southwest flights departing and arriving out of Midway were cancelled early Tuesday. There was no word on if those jets were in question or pulled for inspection.