WASHINGTON — Federal authorities on Tuesday recommended a sweeping overhaul on some of the most commonly used aircraft in the world after an investigation into a Southwest Airlines engine failure last year over Pennsylvania that caused a passenger’s death.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, redesign the fan cowl for planes that use the CFM56-7B engine, use the new design on all its 737s — described by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt as “the most popular single model out there” — and retrofit older models with the new design.
More than 7,000 planes in service use that engine. The recommendation must be adopted as a regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration to force Boeing to comply.
“It is not enough to just prevent the failure; we must also actively work to find ways to minimize the effects of a failure if one does occur,” Sumwalt said at a hearing Tuesday.
Southwest Flight 1380, carrying 144 people and five crew members, was forced to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport on April 17, 2018, after a fan blade in one of two engines snapped. Pieces shredded the casing around the engine, which then struck the fuselage and shattered a window at Row 14. The plane depressurized, causing a passenger, Jennifer Riordan, 43, to be partially pulled through the hole. Two other passengers helped pull her back inside, but she died of her injuries.
The plane had been bound for Love Field in Dallas from LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
“We want the FAA to move on these recommendations,” Sumwalt said. “We feel they’re very critical.”
A cascade of unlikely failures led to tragedy on Flight 1380, the NTSB found. Repeatedly, pieces of the engine and the cowling surrounding it didn’t perform as expected, causing the federal investigative agency to recommend either new testing techniques or a return to the drawing board for key components.
Boeing issued a statement Tuesday that it would work to implement changes to meet the NTSB’s recommendations and was already working to redesign parts to be more resilient to damage from a fan blade failure.
“Our common goal is to help prevent similar events from happening in the future,” the company stated.
It did not include an estimate on how long the work would take or how much it would cost.
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