Tuesday, April 05, 2011

FAA Inspections of 737s: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Let's just say I'm skeptical about the seriousness of this "emergency directive" coming today from the Federal Aviation Administration that supposedly will require intense inspections of about 80 Boeing 737s in the U.S.

I seem to be the only reporter in the country who's asking the basic Five W questions -- Who? What? When? Where? Why? Not that that makes me such a hotshot, because frankly I haven't managed to get answers yet.

The FAA Web site is still highlighting yesterday's announcement that this "emergency directive" is coming today, but with no sign of said emergency directive as of early afternoon today. And here is what I saw a minute ago when I clicked onto the FAA's "airworthiness directives" (ADs) link: "The ADs site is temporarily down for maintenance."


Here are some basic questions that need answers:

Who among the airlines will need to do something to comply with this FAA directive? What specifically will need to be done? When will this need to be done? Where will it occur? And, why now?

Southwest flies most of the older-model 737s that evidently are covered in the directive. Southwest says it's already in full compliance with the directive, thanks to the inspection procedures that followed its grounding of 79 Boeing 737-300s over the weekend after a 5-foot hole ripped open on one on a flight at 35,000 feet over Arizona.

If that is the case, and no one has given me any reason so far to doubt it, then what exactly is the purpose of this FAA directive, which the FAA has said will cover three models of older, high-turnover 737s -- mostly in the 300 series, but including 400s and 500s? And if it's an emergency, why the confusion and foot-dragging over the basic details of how air travel might be affected by the government's ordering intensive inspections of a large number of 737s? Wouldn't that require the grounding of those airplanes?

But if, as Southwest seems to be saying, the directive is actually moot on arrival, why does the FAA announcement about the forthcoming emergency directive say [italics mine] that it "will require operators of specific early Boeing 737 models to conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage?"

Here's the strange FAA press release, sent out yesterday, announcing the forthcoming release, today, of this baffling "emergency directive."

It's afternoon in Washington, and so far the emergency seems to be rumored more than defined, which is never, ever a good thing in emergency procedures.


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