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Cracks appear in passenger jets

Cracks have appeared in three Qantas’ Boeing 737 passenger jets. Photo: Sheba/WikimediaCommons

By VANESSA LIM

Cracks in Qantas’ Boeing 737NG planes have raised safety concerns for consumers flying this holiday period. The cracks, which are located on “pickle forks,” so named because of their resemblance to the kitchen utensil, have been found on a load-bearing assembly, which attaches firmly to each side of the fuselage between the body and the wing of the plane. Repairing these cracks requires an inspection, which means the planes must be grounded.

Of the 33 inspected Qantas planes, three were grounded because they were found to have small cracks.
“The three Qantas 737s are out of service and waiting for repairs to be completed,” said a spokesperson from Qantas.
The remaining Qantas Boeing 737NG planes are still in use after inspections, but the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineering Association (ALAEA) said Qantas was “putting schedule before safety”. Steven Purvinas, Federal Secretary of the ALAEA, commented that “Qantas have said this is not a safety issue… but these cracks are in the pickle fork, which is a load-bearing component of the wing”.
He said that cracks in the pickle fork could occur during turbulence or heavy landing, leading to a loss of control of the aircraft. He added that “when aircraft have serious issues in the air it’s usually occurs over something very small, like accelerating very fast”.

No immediate risk
Qantas has denied putting customers in jeopardy and stated there would be no immediate risk. “These are hairline cracks and we expect there to be minimal disruption to the peak holiday period,” said a spokesperson from Qantas. Boeing is still unsure on the origin of the problem and is inspecting their Boeing 737NGs to find the cause.
“Boeing notified the FAA of this issue and has been actively engaged with our 737NG customers globally in a plan to support the required inspections. Boeing has provided all 737NG customers detailed instructions for conducting the inspections and reporting the results. The company has held multiple customer engagements to ensure all technical questions are being addressed,” said David Sidman, Director of Communications at Boeing Australia.
“Boeing is actively working with customers that have airplanes in their fleets with inspection findings to develop a repair plan, and to provide parts and technical support as necessary.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has mandated inspections before planes accumulate 30,000 total flight cycles. More than 1,000 planes have reached the inspection threshold and less than five per cent of them have been found to need repairing.
“Boeing regrets the impact this issue is having on our 737NG customers worldwide and we are working around the clock to provide the support needed to return all airplanes to service as soon as possible.”
Although cracks were found in only five per cent of planes, ALAEA said that these kinds of cracks can “take months of fix” and required a special Boeing team. The cost would accumulate to an estimated $400,000 per plane according to aviation consultancy IBA.
For now, Qantas will continue to fly Boeing 737s that don’t appear to have cracks in them.

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