Here's a link to the .pdf of the awaited FAA compliance directive on the issue of 737s that need to be inspected for possible fuselage cracks.
Ah, just as Southwest Airlines has insisted, the directive gives Southwest a pass on the 79 737s it grounded for inspection over the weekend. The "emergency" order, called an airworthiness directive, clearly indicates that nearly all of the aircraft that are covered by the order -- mostly involving Southwest 737-300s with a certain number of cycles (landings and takeoffs) -- have already been sufficiently inspected.
So, despite alarmist media stories saying that the FAA was rushing to issue an emergency order today for airlines to inspect 80 U.S.-based 737s -- with the clear implication that these planes might all need to be grounded -- what we actually have is a mainly retroactive order that provides FAA paperwork for what Southwest has already done.
That is, no additional major groundings (some airlines with one or two 737-400s or 500s might need to take them out for inspection). No air-travel disruptions.
They could have told us that yesterday.
Under "compliance," the FAA directive issued this afternoon says:
--"Comply with this AD within the compliance times specified, unless already done.
Some other excerpts:
--"This AD applies to the Boeing Company Model 737-300, -400, and -500 series airplanes, certificated in any category, as identified in Boeing Alert Service Bulletin 737-53A1319, dated April 4, 2011...."
--"This AD was prompted by a report indicating that a Model 737-300 series airplane experienced a rapid decompression when the lap joint at stringer S-4L between body station (BS) 664 and BS 727 cracked and opened up due to cracking in the lower skin at the lower row of fasteners. We are issuing this AD to detect and correct such cracking, which could result in an uncontrolled decompression of the airplane."
Apropos this situation, I like this reader comment on the airline blog of the Dallas News newspaper (Dallas being Southwest's hometown):
"Southwest is handling the situation correctly. They didn't wait for the FAA to force their hand at inspection as did with American Airlines a while back. Southwest went to Boeing and identified the aircraft to be inspected. You want a proven track record, look at how many crashes Southwest has had that resulted in fatalities to passengers = 0. In fact, they have had only 2 incidents, both on landings. The only passenger death to date is when a 19 yr old guy tried to storm the cockpit of the plane and 8 passengers beat him to death."